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Pippin’ searches for self-discovery through song and dance

Mary Claire O'Donnell | Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Pasquerilla East Music Company (PEMCo.) brings the drama of the Holy Roman Empire to Notre Dame this weekend with its newest play “Pippin.” The show opens tonight at Washington Hall and continues through Saturday night.

“Pippin” is the story of the son of Charlemagne (senior Kevin de la Montaigne), Pippin (sophomore Samuel Evola), who struggles to find meaning in his life and his place in the world. As the first-born son of the Holy Roman Emperor, Pippin is expected to fulfill certain duties, none of which bring joy to his life. And so he sets out on his journey of self-discovery, singing and dancing his way — with help from the chorus — through confusion, disillusionment and even love.

The play opens with a fantastic opening number, “Magic to Do,” in which the Leading Player (senior Claire Cooney) and chorus invite the audience to join them in the magic of the play and the adventure of the story. Enter Pippin, a young prince back from the University of Padua, who does not fit in with the bellicose personality of his father and half brother.

And so begins Pippin’s journey. Along the way, he tries the life of a soldier, a priest, a reformer fighting for peasant’s rights, a Holy Roman Emperor and a farm worker. He seeks power and glory, and the appropriate life for a man of his extraordinary talents.

Through a number of superb musical numbers — “No Time at All” is a highlight — he eventually discovers the most important thing in life, turning from struggling against himself to struggling against the chorus who want him to follow their darker plan. But he makes his choice, bringing meaning to the musical, which Cooney thought was the most moving part of “Pippin.”

“As the play progresses … it becomes clear that [the chorus and Leading Player] are really a cult,” she said. “These people are creepy and obsessed with sex and probably drugs, anything self-destructive. And so even though [Pippin’s choice] is not completely fulfilling, because nothing in the present ever really is, it’s the most wonderful thing he can achieve.”

De la Montaigne also enjoyed the message of the musical.

“I think that it’s natural to make that journey [of self-discovery and disillusionment],” he said. “At the end, we come back again, and [the journey] repeats itself for everyone, so it’s okay to feel like that because everyone does at one point or another.”

PEMCo.’s latest production is especially interesting because of the play’s structure. The musical features a mysterious acting troupe, the chorus, led by the Leading Player, who tell Pippin’s story, almost narrating from the background. But the Leading Player also actively involves herself in the action, critiquing the acting of some characters and guiding Pippin along his journey at points.

This structure is intriguing and draws the audience into the play. It also helps to highlight the darker side of the play, which was one of Cooney’s favorite parts of this musical.

“[The musical’s] a lot darker than any of our other plays,” she said. “I’ve never played a character that has a very evil side before. Even though my character seems just more interested in the spectacle of it all in the first half of the show, she becomes really evil in the second half.”

Evola also enjoyed the character development that went into his role.

“This play made me invest more of my emotion into it than other plays,” he said. “Running through Pippin never thinking he’s going to find anything, thinking he’s found it, then having it cut out from under him, just all the emotional transition that has to happen throughout was new for me.”

The experiences may have been new for the actors, but the end result is excellent. “Pippin” is a funny, though dark, musical that entertains and reflects the hard work of everyone involved in the production. Don’t miss this play.

On campus

What: PEMCo.’s “Pippin”

Where: Washington Hall

When: Thursday, Feb. 9 – Saturday, Feb. 11, 7:30 p.m.

How Much: $5 students, $10 non-students, tickets available at the LaFortune Box Office and at the door

Learn More: www.nd.edu/~pemusic