Musical Theatre PIPPIN National Youth Theatre

Stephen Schwartz's first hit was based on the gospel according to Matthew, hardly the ideal vehicle for a successful musical. Wrong. The show was Godspell. The British production starred David Essex and the young Julie Covington, Marti Webb and Jeremy Irons - scarcely household names back then. This, the first London revival of Schwartz's next smash, Pippin, has a cast of complete unknowns. In the future, people may well say: "I saw them when they were in the National Youth Theatre." Fans of musical theatre should see it, for notwithstanding a number of good songs, this revival suggests there is unlikely to be another.

Compared to Godspell, the setting is positively modern. Roger O Hirson's slangy book tells the eponymous story of the son of Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne in "780 AD or thereabouts". In true Seventies style, our hero sets about finding "something completely fulfilling", or as Schwartz puts it in Pippin's first song, "got to find my corner of the sky". Belittled by his overambitious stepmother (an accomplished Jayne Nesbitt) and body- built stepbrother, Pippin goes to war to impress his father, only to end up killing him for his tyrannical use of power. Realising that he is falling into the same traps, he runs away to continue his journey of discovery. He finds and discards love and domesticity and even gets to play a scene with a dead duck. You have to hand it to Schwartz - anyone who can tempt fate and risk a dead duck headline has some nerve.

In many ways, Pippin is like Bernstein's Candide re-scored for a rock band (with some fabulously dated Seventies arrangements). In both shows, you simply don't care enough about the naive leading character. Pippin's saving grace and biggest liability is the circus-like frame introduced by original director/choreographer Bob Fosse, who was widely regarded as pivotal to the show's success. Characters comment on the action and shape the storytelling into a revue-like format. The result is something all too knowing, with characters addressing the audience and undercutting the sentiment of the sometimes powerful music.

Edward Wilson's production has more energy than it knows what to do with. Reprising Fosse's trademark hatwork, bump-'n'-grind hips and outstretched palms is not the same as creating real choreographic shape and dynamism. Despite impressive work, the huge, drably costumed chorus looks like a cross between a Fellini film and a Madonna video. It's as if everyone is afraid that if they stop being busy for a second, everything will come crashing down about their ears. As ever, simplicity works best. "On the Right Track" is just that - a fun, neat duet for the nimble, thoroughly engaging Timothy Baker as Pippin and the Mephistophelian Leading Character (a slick, energetic Chris Jarman) which showcases the performers' genuine potential.

The moral of the story is that happiness is in your own backyard. By the curtain call, the cast look pretty happy. And why not.

n To 2 Sept. The Bloomsbury Theatre (0171-388 8822)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers