Pippin

It’s hard to put into words how I felt about this production and still be taken seriously. I’m concerned everything I write is going to sound cliché and over-the-top. Even so, I can’t stress this enough: it really is that good. I forgot theatre could be that good. But that’s one reason I keep going back to show after show, ranging from terrible to mediocre to great. One after another, I go to the theatre hoping my mind will be blown. Like me, the audience that night was waiting to see a show that would wake up every single one of their senses.

The energy in the house was electric from the get-go. The opening chords of “Magic to Do” began, and people went crazy. It was like a rock concert. But, you know, at a Stephen Schwartz pop musical. And from those opening moments through the last, the show never falters. It builds and builds until the climactic (or is it anti-climactic?) ending. It continues to outdo itself. There were moments when I felt like I was levitating. Between the orchestrations, cast, choreography, lights, set, and circus acts, it can do no wrong in my mind, and everyone who has seen it knows this to be true (we’re clearly not including Ben Brantley in this scenario).

For those of you who don’t know the show, Pippin first hit New York in the early 1970s, Fosse-ing its way onto Broadway and winning Ben Vereen a Tony for Best Actor as the devilish Leading Player plus a handful of other awards. It is loosely based on the real-life Charlemagne (Charles the Great) and his son Pippin from the Middle Ages. Using the premise of a traveling theatre troupe, it tells the story of a young man named Pippin trying to find his place in the world and looking to achieve ultimate fulfillment. This particular production uses the framework of a Big Top and never lets up on the circus convention. Acrobats, animal cages, tricks, hoops, unicycles, and magic fill the action from start to finish, all leading to the promised unparalleled greatest finale.

If you’re already a fan of the show, it’s a treat experiencing the newly tweaked (for the better) book, and there are also some nice cuts/revisions to the songs. I can’t say enough complimentary things about the cast. If Patina Miller does not win a Tony for her work as the Leading Player, color me dazed and confused. I enjoyed her performance in Sister Act a couple seasons ago, but it’s like this role was made for her. She radiates this intoxicating energy with her strong vocals and tantalizing smile. Not to mention those fantastically toned arms. Speaking of which, this cast is beautiful. Can we talk about that for a second? Very good-looking people in astonishing shape, which is quite necessary considering some of the feats performed. The circus team is fantastic, from their mind-boggling, grab-the-person-next-to-you tricks to the more under-stated moments like Pippin’s brief conversation with a severed head. I was sorry to see that Matthew James Thomas (Pippin) and Rachel Bay Jones (Catherine, his love interest) were not recognized for their work by the Tony committee. I thought their performances were nuanced, hilarious, and beautifully sung. Terrence Mann (Charlemagne), of course, is Broadway royalty, and if you missed Charlotte D’Amboise (Fastrada) as Cassie in the recent revival of A Chorus Line, now’s your chance to see her big “Music and the Mirror” number in the form of “Spread a Little Sunshine.” For show highlights, click here and here.

So yes, as you can see, I could clearly go on and on about Diane Paulus’s brilliant production. All my reviews after this will likely pale in comparison, but seriously: go buy your tickets before Pippin wins many a Tony Award on June 9th. It is not to be missed.

And if you’re still having hesitations, just go to see Andrea Martin’s big scene as Berthe. Trust me, you will not regret it.


Pippin
Written by Stephen Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson, Directed by Diane Paulus
Music Box Theatre, Closing January 4th, 2015
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Andrea Martin, Patina Miller, Terrence Mann, and the Cast of Pippin

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