‘Pippin’ showcases locals’ impressive moves

YOUNGSTOWN — David Jendre has been Youngstown Playhouse’s go-to director / choreographer this decade for the kind of big, dance-heavy musicals that many community theaters avoid.

“Pippin” continues that tradition, bringing the Bob Fosse-directed hit from the 1970s (that enjoyed a Tony-winning revival in 2013) to the local stage.

The 15-member ensemble executes some impressive moves in the Stephen Schwartz / Roger O. Hirson musical that echo the style of Fosse without feeling like step-for-step recreation of what’s already been done.

The musical also provides a showcase for some impressive local talent.

The structure is a show within a show as a performing troupe tells the tale of Pippin, the son of Roman leader King Charlemagne. Pippin goes in search of true happiness and fulfillment on the battlefield, on the throne and in the arms of various women before discovering a simpler answer to his quest.

James Major Burns is the Leading Player, the head of the troupe, who serves as a narrator and commentator on the action. It’s a tour-de-force role (both actors who’ve played the role on Broadway won Tony Awards), and Burns doesn’t disappoint. He has the voice and the wicked charm needed for the character, and the ability to pull off the angular precision of the choreography.

Playing the title role is John Monroe, who played Igor in last season’s production of “Young Frankenstein.” There were times when the demands of the score exceeded his vocal range, but he brings the necessary wide-eyed innocence to the character in the early scene and a growing weariness as the story continues.

“Pippin” also provides prime roles for a couple of local theater veterans. Regina Rees is a pure delight as Pippin’s grandmother Berthe on “No Time at All,” and Alan McCreary is just as good as the king on “War Is a Science.”

Those individual standout don’t obscure what is a true ensemble show, and Jendre, assistant director Joanna Andrei and music director Chad C. Kendall have the cast — Roz Blystone, Christopher Wilson, Sarah Jane Demetruk, Mikey Zoccali, Cheyenne Carr, Kiara Jones, Mikayla Moore, Anne Sopher, Janerall Brown, Michael A. Cotton, Trevail Maurice and Reece Xavior — functioning as a true unit.

The action plays out on a mostly empty stage, but the set pieces created by Jendre and Leslie Brown whisk on and off stage and serve multiple purpose to create quick transitions and a smooth-running production. And the colorful pop of Therese Pitzulo’s costumes adds a visual splash to an entertaining show.

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