‘Pippin’ brings hip-hop and anime weirdness to Seaver Theatre

A male college student dressed in royal attire and wearing a crown addresses the audience
Keith Ferguson PO ’20 plays King Charles in “Pippin” on Oct. 30. (Domenico Ottolia • The Student Life)

Pomona College’s production of “Pippin” is bringing layers of weird to Seaver Theatre with hip-hop, anime and angst.

With shows running through the weekend, “Pippin,” written by Tony award-winner Stephen Schwartz, tells the story of a young man’s journey to find life’s meaning. The main character, Pippin, navigates royalty, war, revolution, romance and religion in hopes of reaching fulfillment in life. 

This year’s fall musical was directed by Tim Dang, award-winning director and performer. Dang is also the artistic director of East West Players, the longest-running professional theater company of color for the last 23 years, according to the playbill.

As written in the playbill, the musical is set in a time “long ago in the near future,” and “Pippin” has been known for being zany and experimental since its first run in 1972. 

The original Broadway production featured choreographer Bob Fosse’s signature jazzy, angular moves, and the Broadway revival had the aesthetics of a big-top circus extravaganza. Whether it be a professional theater or community playhouse, every interpretation of “Pippin” is unique, with its own style and spin — Pomona’s production is no exception. 

The musical was deftly reimagined for the 5Cs, bringing it into the 21st century through hip-hop and anime influences. The musical also peppered in various timely cultural references, such as a protest sign that said “#NotMyKing,” parodying the popular hashtag “#NotMyPresident.”

In the foreground, a male student playing King Charles lies dead on the stage. In the background a male college student playing Pippin is being crowned the new king.
Pomona College’s Seaver Theatre production of “Pippin” runs from Oct. 31 through Nov. 3. (Domenico Ottolia • The Student Life)

Dang also decided to portray the ensemble as street performers seeking shelter in a warehouse after being caught by a thunderstorm. While waiting for the storm to pass, the ensemble decides to tell the audience, who is also stuck in the downpour, the story of the young man Pippin.

Pippin’s character, though “loosely based on the coming-of-age story of King Charlemagne’s oldest son,” according to the playbill, still speaks to the college experience. Pippin’s conflict begins when he finds himself in the uncomfortable position where many Claremont students will also find themselves: graduated and feeling unsure about the next chapter of life. 

Pippin discovers — just like many students soon will — that life’s search for meaning doesn’t end at graduation. If anything, that’s when it begins. Over the course of the musical, Pippin comes to realize that a grand journey may not have been necessary. The wonders of life were with him all along.

With audience interaction and abstract, acrobatic and often risqué dance moves, “Pippin” is unorthodox by nature. Acting student Jackie McVay SC ’21, who saw the show Wednesday night, was a fan of the unconventional and avant-garde style of “Pippin.” 

“It made me want to see more shows and open myself up to new ideas because this was such a different type of performance,” she said.

Audience member Jacob Cohen CM ’21 noted several strong narrative and creative aspects of the show, appreciating Pomona’s ability to make a classic show like “Pippin” feel relevant and intriguing to modern audiences. 

“[It was] thoroughly entertaining,”  he said.[It had] brilliant choreography, [it was] timely and poignant and added modern flair to a very historical piece.”

“Pippin” has four more shows this weekend, one Friday at 8 p.m., two Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and one Sunday at 2 p.m. Students can purchase tickets online or at the box office, outside the Seaver Theatre at Pomona.  

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