Orange County Theatre Reviews

The Much-Maligned OC Theater Critic – Behind the Orange Curtain with Scott Keister #3

IMG_1025_100dpi 2Written by Scotty Keister

The theater critic has existed as long as theater itself. Ask Plato. It’s a co-dependent relationship where both thrive on each other’s existence. For the ever-sensitive actor the critic carries a double-edged sword: if they get a good review they love the critic like family; if they get a bad review (or no review at all) the critic is a complete moron who should be tarred and feathered. However, the theater depends on the critic’s review to bring in the crowds, they have access to the media and some people even read reviews. So there is the delicate balance of the relationship, based on an ever-tentative tolerance.

This relationship gets trickier when the critic is a member of the local theater scene, as both a participant, colleague and friend. For myself, I’ve been acting and writing in local theater in the Fullerton area since 2005. Several years ago I was invited to start writing critiques on Facebook for a local theater, a theater where I had acted in shows and had many friends. Knowing how touchy theater folks can be – they don’t call it drama for nothing – I was a little hesitant, and I warned them that I was going to be honest. But they liked my writing and were okay with that. So far I’ve had no complaints, at least not to my face. I’ve also started writing reviews for this website over the past year. Although I’ve been writing reviews on and off for forty years, I’m a relative newby to the OC theater world.

Joel Beers has been writing theater criticism in Orange County for twenty years, in the OC Weekly. Joel is easily the funniest and best writer of all local theater critics (of which there are few), and for my money, the most versed in the subject matter. Like me, Joel is a member of the theater world, as a playwright. He’s had a number of plays produced at Stages Theater over the years, and writes reviews for every theater in town, although the Weekly has seriously cut back on space for Arts the past few years. Joel gets criticized a lot by people in the theater world for being too hard on local theaters. He speaks his mind and is always honest. If he’s critical it’s because he holds the world of theater to a high standard. Nobody expects Broadway standard production values on a community theater level, but one does expect good quality theater: writing, acting, directing, design, imagination. That doesn’t require money. Joel will always research shows he’s reviewing, looking for interviews or background on the writer and the play. He does this because he takes it seriously.

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Aerial Acrobatics Can’t Elevate Pippin – Pippin @ Segerstrom Center of Performing Arts in Costa Mesa

Guest Writer

Written by Joel Beers 

It’s the same song as the “Pippin” you may be familiar with, but the national tour of the 2013 Tony Award-winner for best revival of a musical is definitely not the same dance. While some aspects of the legendary Bob Fosse,

who directed and choreographed the production that earned 10 1973 Tony Awards nominations and ran for nearly 2,000 performances on Broadway, remain intact, this Diane Paulus-directed show is infused with aerial acrobatics and a circus-like feel that is often jaw-dropping to watch.

Unfortunately, it’s about the only thing that is exciting about the show. Although Steven Schwartz (“Godspell,” Wicked”) received a Tony nomination for his score, there’s a reason he didn’t win. The music is largely undistinguished and the lyrics less than inspired. Most problematic, however, is Roger O. Hirson’s book. The idea of Pippin was weird in the first place—a coming to age, Siddharthan-like tale of the quest of the youngest son of legendary Medieval king Charlemagne to find fulfillment. But the execution of that story—from soldier, to artist, to religious acolyte, to farmer to ritualistic suicide shaman—seems hopelessly mired in the pining, self-centered psyche of the Me Generation era. No amount of physical bells and whistles can overshadow that.

Sasha Allen is a dynamic leading player (the role Ben Vereen is most known for) although she’s a little breathy at times, and there are fantastic performances from the ensemble, who are as equally talented singers and dancers as they are acrobats. In the supporting roles, Lucie Arnaz is an eminently likeable Berthe and the lithe and leggy Sabrina Harris, as Pippin’s manipulative step-mother, Fastrada, nearly steals every scene she’s in. But Kyle Dean Massey, who shared in playing the role on Broadway, can do nothing with the terrible dialogue and motivation he’s given. The guy’s got a great voice, but his Pippin is more whiny and petulant than heroic and adventurous. You feel his frustration at wanting to live an extraordinary life, but you also wish he’d stop coming off as a spoiled brat. By the time he is forced with his climactic decision—The Lizard King perched above a flaming pyre and exhorted by the rest of his fellow troubadours to sacrifice himself for his calling—it feels less like an urgent dramatic moment, and more of an acid trip that wasn’t that trippy to begin with gone bad.

This 21st Century “Pippin” is a delight to look at it. But it remains a bore to listen to.


Date & Location :

November 11 – 23, 2014

Segerstrom Center for the Arts
600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, CA

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