Emperor's son strikes back

1st September 1995 at 01:00
The National Youth Theatre chose cannily in reviving Stephen Schwartz's award-winning musical Pippin. A young man's search for fulfilment is timeless and something with which teenage performers can identify - even when the hero is a semi-mythic, historical character. Pippin is son of Charlemagne, Holy Roman Emperor. He yearns for fame and glory but just feels "empty and vacant. "

The show is set somewhere between AD 780 and 1974 when Pippin debuted on Broadway. If screeching guitars and a white-suited "leading-player" feel dated, the cast seemed at home in their clown costumes, micro shorts and platform boots. Like Schwartz's Godspell but with fewer hit numbers, Pippin teeters toward the twee, bearable only if the performance is robust. This production had plenty of energy. Samantha Battersea's Berthe (Pippin's granny) cavorting with a chorus-line of strapping lads brought the house down. Ryan Philpott made a strong Charlemagne with a confidently dry delivery.

Meanwhile, Timothy Baker (Pippin) belted out his theme tune, the dreamy "Corner of the Sky", with a well-scrubbed, likeable sincerity. The lesson Pippin learns is that ordinary can be better than extraordinary and the commitment you shun might make you happy. It isn't very profound - but Baker managed to persuade us otherwise.

Bloomsbury Theatre, London WC1, until tomorrow. Tickets: 0171 388 8822.

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