It’s no secret I am a very proud alumni of the University of Washington School of Drama, and my favorite thing about moving back to Seattle is that I get to go back to my alma mater and watch outstanding productions. Whether it’s a MainStage show put on by the UW Professional Actors Training Program students or a black box production in the Cab by the Undergraduate Theatre Society, it just warms my heart with pride to see the latest generation of actors holding it down for all of us old folks who haven’t stepped on stage in years! And my latest experience, Pippin, is my favorite so far!
It all started with an email letting me know that the UW PATP were taking on one of my favorite shows, that often comes with a complicated design, and a challenging vocal score. I mean, the current broadway version is set in a circus tent, for god’s sake. So, when the email said the kids were going to produce this show in Hutch 201, I was like Whaaaaaaa? But then I saw a few names involved in the project that I had seen, and gushed about before, so I knew I had to check this out!
I’m not going to lie, I hadn’t been in Hutch 201 since my final as an advanced acting student in Mark Jenkins’ class, so stepping into that room brought back so many wonderful memories. And imagine my surprise to see Mark, and a few of my other former teachers in the audience, along with as many students as the room could hold! A very good sign for the performers when the director is frantically carrying in chairs to create new rows based on the line of people outside the room hoping to get a seat. There was a full pit, back up singers (as it said in the email that this show had a much smaller cast than usual) and an empty stage with only two floor lights ready to illuminate the stage. There was an electricity humming through the room in the form of anticipation from the audience. And when the lights went down, the company took their places and got set for a bit of magic to do. And oh, how magical it was.
While Pippin is the title character, this show truly is an ensemble piece, where the push and pull of the relationships are essential to the success of the production, and this cast of actors worked together beautifully! I first saw many of these actors in Twelfth Night last year at UW, and then again in Bus Stop last spring, so my expectations of their performance level was extremely high, and none of them disappointed.
Let’s start with Pippin, shall we? Played by the ridiculously handsome Aaron Cammack, this Pippin quickly became my favorite that I’ve ever seen for one reason: Mr. Cammack found so much truth within Pippin’s journey, devoid of any judgment or prejudice, and instead just sunk into this character’s need to find his purpose in life, no matter the cost. With every new experience, the hope that Mr. Cammack brought to Prince Pippin, expecting it to finally be his purpose, only to find disappointment when he didn’t find it, and then moving forward to continue his search was phenomenally played. Clear intentions, outstanding actions, and so perfectly present in each moment, I believed every moment Mr. Cammack created. He took me on his journey so brilliantly, that I was moved to tears at the final scene and the final notes because Mr. Cammack touched my actor’s heart with his performance. A stunning voice, impeccable acting chops, and mesmerizing presence on stage, Mr. Cammack is a true chameleon, and I have no doubt has a very bright career ahead of him. Bravo!
Pippin’s antagonist, well the main one anyway, the Lead Player, was played by the equally mesmerizing Skye Edwards. This cat, I can’t even with him! Tall drink of strawberry blonde water, a chameleon in his own right, I swear, the kid can play anything. I first saw Mr. Edwards as Sir Andrew in Twelfth Night, and his performance was deliciously hysterical! Then, in Bus Stop, well, the second half anyway, his portrayal of Beau was absolutely brilliant! And now, as the Lead Player, people, he was fantastic! Charismatic, ornery, and fiery all at once. He expertly rolled this play
along and set the tone for the show, creating a clash of historic, medieval times with a modern twist. Doing double duty as Lead Player and Choreographer, Mr. Edwards had the flash of Ben Vereen with the subtle stylings and moves of Justin Timberlake. The level of acting and truth that this young man brings to every role I’ve seen him play is something to behold, and I look forward to seeing many more performances from Mr. Edwards.
Rounding out the trio of men who anchored this show was King Charlemagne, played by Zach Virden. Holy mother of the baby jesus, this kid, this freaking talented, brave actor, brought a whole new level to Pippin’s dad that I have never seen done before and it was glorious to experience. A little good, a little evil, a lot dirty, this King is everything you want in a monarch role in a musical. Mr. Virden’s performance was just on a whole other level of bravery with the sheer physicality of the King. They took the role southern, using a simple black cowboy hat as the crown, and Mr. Virden wore it well! The physicality on this actor, the amazing centered movement, flourished with silliness and a bit of deviance was mind blowing. He cracked me up throughout this entire show, I can’t even tell you! He committed to the character that they created for Charlemagne so fully, that I was friggin bummed when the King’s role was done in the play. A fantastic voice, a comedic timing like no other, and acting chops for days, I think the world better brace itself for Mr. Virden, because the last time I saw an actor with this level of comedic genius perform in Hutch 201, yeah, it was Joel McHale, and we all know how the turned out! Thank you for bringing this version of Charlemagne to life, Mr. Virden! I am so much the better for having seen it!
The women in the cast were equally as wonderful. Rebekah Patti was sinfully seductive as Festrata, Claire Fort was wonderfully whimsical as Pippin’s grandmother, and Hazel Lozano was lovely as Catherine. These women rolled in and out of named characters to blend into the chorus, and did so seamlessly. Strong actors with stronger voices, the entire ensemble as a whole was full of outstanding performers, and they rounded out this production beautifully.
And speaking of the production, this show was stripped down to its barest bones, shining a strong light on the script and score of this epic, timeless tale. Directed by a UW PATP actor, Moises Castro, his concept and execution were a powerful, albeit simplistic, combination. Stripping away all the flash and complicated design elements that are usually present in Pippin, Mr. Castro allowed the light to shine brightly on the story, which elevated the message to a refreshing level. The ensemble acted as the crew, utilizing ladders and rolling platforms to create a simple world for Pippin to roam through searching for his corner of the sky, and it was the perfect backdrop for these outstanding actors to be allowed to do their jobs, and they did them well. This simplistic world and magnificent acting had the lesson of the story of Pippin hitting me harder than it ever has before, and I thank the entire production team, creative team, musicians, actors, and crew for this wonderful night of theatre.
This stunning production only had two weeks of rehearsal and one week of tech, so there are definitely places where the show could be tighter (this was mostly musically, as you could hear the exhaustion on a few of the performers as they got to the end of the show) and some wonky props that weren’t as effective as I’ve no doubt they will be as this show continues to evolve and grow. And I look forward to future iterations of this version of Pippin.
I am one proud alumni to know that UW is still impeccably training actors, cultivating talent, and supporting projects that their students want to pursue. It restores my faith in my training and the art form that I love with all my heart to see this level of acting on not just a few members of a cast, but on each and every actor on that stage! Thank you, UW PATP Classes of 2016, 2017 and 2018 for continuing the legacy of well trained, wonderfully talented actors! GO DAWGS!
Sadly, this show only had three performances, and has already closed. But trust me, if there’s another run, I will be the first to let you all know! In the meantime, UW has quite the season planned this year, and if you want to see good acting, and I mean really good acting, then get thee to the UW Campus, and go see a show and support these young actors and let them perform for you.
I give this a thunderous applause and standing ovation! Bravo!
Ciao for now,
Headshot from UW School of Drama PATP Website