CEDAR RAPIDS - "Magic to Do" lures the audience into "Pippin," and Revival Theatre Company's version of the hit Broadway musical is magical from beginning to end.
You have to hurry to get in on the fun. The new professional troupe's season finale only plays through Sunday in Dows Theatre at Coe College. The only disappointment for this colorful, imaginative, top-flight staging is that it only runs one weekend in a fairly small theater.
Thursday night's cheering throng (6/4/15) filled nearly every seat in the house, which in this case, is turned into a giant circus tent with massive purple and teal drapes flanking the center ring.
The lights go down, the music goes up and the magic begins as Alisabeth Von Presley begins seducing the crowd with a slinky, sassy sensuality. Magic happens every time she steps into a spotlight, and this production showcases her brilliance as a singer, dancer, actor and choreographer. Bob Fosse's iconic moves fit her like a glove. She's passed that crisp precision onto the cast of nearly 20 players.
The sheer difficulty of the music and choreography would tax any performers to their limits. But this ensemble picks up the gauntlet and runs with it, through this coming-of-age tale as Charlemagne's son, Prince Pippin, tries to find his way in the world by exploring worldly pursuits.
The action is a little sexier than director Brian Glick said in an earlier interview, and I'm not convinced middle school students should see the overt fondling, which is appropriate for the lyrics and situations, but not necessarily appropriate for tweens and young teens.
Nick Arceo brings an awkward naivete to Pippin, who has returned home after college to find his place in the royal realm. Mirroring his character's journey, Arceo lets Pippin's signature song, "Corner of the Sky," grow with confidence to a stunning conclusion, laying the groundwork for his father's grand entrance.
Greg Smith, who always finds the pitch-perfect tone for whatever character he's playing, is all blustery, heartless ego as the king who wants to prepare his son to someday wear the crown. But first, he must lead the charge against the Visigoths.
Arceo prances with childlike glee over the thought of going to war, getting on his father's last nerve. Smith dazzles as he explains the complexities in "War is a Science." The tempo steamrolls to an impossible pace, and Smith doesn't miss a beat. The players brandish their swords to enact a battle scene of epically hilarious, razor-sharp, slaughtering proportions.
Von Presley, Cameron Byrd and Sawyer Johannes team up for the sexiest soft-shoe as several others run through each other with swords.
Casting war aside, Pippin then runs to the safety and security of his grandmother Berthe, who is anything but safe and secure in the hands of local veteran Jan McCool. She struts her way through "No Time at All," telling Pippin it's time to start living. That paves the way for Amy Friedl Stoner to strut her stuff as the most devious of stepmothers, Fastrada, a scheming Jezebel whose only goal is to put her dimwitted son, Lewis, on the throne. Michael Penick plays dumb to the hilt, better at speaking with his sword than his brain.
One of the biggest delights of the production is Lacie De Souza as Catherine, the young widow who steals Pippin's heart with her simple life and determination. I've seen this musical several times, including the recent Broadway national tour, and Catherine tends to be a forgettable, mousy character.
Not this time. De Souza is no shrinking hippie flower child when she unexpectedly belts out "Kind of Woman," turning this sweet lilt into a rousing showstopper.
Ian Wolverton-Weiss, fresh off his gig playing Michael Banks in "Mary Poppins" at Theatre Cedar Rapids, could not be any cuter as Catherine's son, Theo. It's a little jarring when mouthiness tumbles out of his angelic demeanor, but he embraces the role and its tantrums with charm.
A special nod must go to the chorus, acrobats and dancers, who bring a spectacular level of beauty and humor to the action. And when they all join voices in the first- and second-act finales, their power and harmonies blow the top off the circus tent. Kudos to musical director Cameron Sullenberger and his orchestra, too, for adding the sonic glitz to this glorious sight and sound explosion.
WHAT: Revival Theatre Company: "Pippin"
WHERE: Dows Theatre, Coe College, 1220 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday, June 5 to 7, 2015
Tickets: $29 general admission; Paramount Ticket Office, (319) 366-8203 or Artsiowa.com/tickets/concerts/rtc-pippin