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'Pippin’ Revival Opens On Broadway: REVIEW

Pippin5

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

Of the incredible human feats being performed on Broadway, perhaps few are more spectacular than the acrobatics on display in director Diane Paulus’ revival of Pippin, which opened last Thursday at the Music Box Theatre. Circus performers and Broadway veterans alike move through the air with great ease, transforming the much loved though decidedly bizarre 1972 musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Roger O. Hirson into something of a marvel.

Pippin4Schwartz and Hirson’s story, performed for the audience by a group of players, is a string of trials and life experiments of a boy prince searching for an extraordinary life. In a fitting and imaginative twist on the show’s framing device, Paulus transforms the players into a troupe of circus performers, adding spectacle and structure to the musical’s episodic plot.

Patina Miller heads up the troupe as Lead Player (here reconceived as a female role), driving the production’s momentum with radiant energy and powerhouse vocals. Matthew James Thomas appropriately strikes a more ordinary note as the directionless prince Pippin. Though he goes along with the Lead Player’s spectacular schemes to give his life meaning, from waging war to sexual excess, in the end he seems destined for the conventional outcome that's in store for him.

Pippin2The limber ensemble and talented featured players relish in their performances, including Rachel Bay Jones as Catherine, Pippin’s ultimate love interest, and Terrance Mann as his father Charles. But it’s Andrea Martin as Pippin’s grandmother Berthe who gives the most down to earth and simultaneously high-flying (and show stopping) performance of the evening. Serving up sage advice with one of the musical’s better-known songs (‘No Time at All’), Martin brings a grounded quality that’s rare among the show’s more showy characterizations.

The production’s awe-inspiring circus elements were conceived by Gypsy Snider, a co-founder of the Montreal-based 7 doigts de la main (7 Fingers) circus company. Including choreography by Chet Walker (in the style of Bob Fosse’s for the original production), this revival’s use of spectacle goes a long way toward making up for weaknesses in the written material. Hirson’s meandering book does little more than connect the dots between Schwartz’s well-known score of musical numbers—most of which (though not all) withstand the test of time.

Pippin6As with her recent Broadway productions of Hair and The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (a collaboration with Suzan-Lori Parks on a new book adaptation), Paulus highlights the clear merits of her original material while coming up with creative solutions to smooth over more problematic areas. If the story itself doesn't delight, the production's visual splendor undoubtedly will.

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: joan marcus)

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Comments

  1. i so wish i was in NYC just to see this. it is one of my all time favorites.

    Irene Ryan, yep Grannie Moses on The Beverly Hillbillies, sang the original Berthe role & belted out "No Time At All" - what a marvel...

    Posted by: mike/ | Apr 30, 2013 12:40:15 PM


  2. I once had the cast album of "Pippin" because I really liked the song "Magic to do." My mom went to see the show when it originally opened on Broadway in the 1970's. She felt it was anti-Christian and walked out, insisting on her money back. They had a "no money back" policy, but decided to break it this time when my Mom threatened to get loud and refuse to leave without a refund.

    She also got annoyed several years ago in the bank when she saw a transgendered man - feeling that he was offending society by appearing in women's clothing. I figured that as long as he wasn't making a spectacle of himself, how he dressed really was his own business. And the funny thing is that SHE has always been the liberal/neocon in the family. She accepted SSM long before I did.

    Strange how things work sometimes. LGBT acceptance is on a continuum - and sometimes you don't know where you'll find a person on it.

    Posted by: Mary | Apr 30, 2013 1:15:55 PM


  3. Meh. Not a fan of SS. Whenever Pippin or Godspell come on the Sirius XM Broadway, I change the station.

    Posted by: Joseph L | Apr 30, 2013 5:13:00 PM


  4. Best show i have seen on Broadway in a long time.

    Posted by: Kevin Thor | Apr 30, 2013 5:49:28 PM


  5. I agree that Pippin is "decidedly bizarre". Calling the book "meandering" is overly kind. The ending has always been unsatisfying, in my opinion. Any emotional impact created by breaking the fourth wall in the finale when the players walk off the stage is immediately erased by the curtain call. That's the fault of the book. The only way to make it work would be to end the show with the bare stage and no curtain call.

    Posted by: alex | Apr 30, 2013 6:37:51 PM


  6. Does Pippin still have homophobic dialogue concerning the character Lewis?

    Posted by: Joe Ess | Apr 30, 2013 7:10:29 PM


  7. Joe: I saw the Deaf West Theatre production in LA 4-5 years ago. The only thing that might be considered homophobic is a one-off joke where Pippin is surprised that Lewis is interested in women. But, the punch line isn't that Pippin is worried that his step-brother is gay...Pippin is concerned that Lewis isn't into going to war and killing people.

    In the show I saw, it was perfectly clear to everyone (including Pippin), that Lewis was having an quasi-incestuous relationship with his step-mother.

    Posted by: alex | May 1, 2013 1:35:00 AM


  8. I thought the definitive line about Lewis was something like "Lewis is in love with...Lewis."

    (Granted it's been decades since I saw it.)

    My biggest regret about Pippin is that I didn't "go out for a coffee" with the hot guy who was playing footsie with me when I saw it in NY in 1975. I was a frightened, closeted 19-year-old virgin.

    Posted by: homogenius | May 1, 2013 3:52:59 AM


  9. I, too, saw Pippin on Broadway with Irene Ryan, back in the 70s. I loved it then, and always felt it was under-appreciated. I've got to get back to NY!

    Posted by: John | May 1, 2013 10:23:06 AM


  10. In re: 'Pippin' returning to Broadway in April 2013: the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles will be performing the music of Steven SCHWARTZ - including that of 'Pippin' - at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, CA on Saturday/Sunday, 22/23JUN13. The performances are under the direction of Interim Conductor Dr. Timothy SEELIG; author Steven SCHWARTZ will be performing as the Chorus' special guest on
    both days. (I am a 24-year performing member of GMCLA.)
    http://www.GMCLA.org/

    Posted by: A. Lee WALKUP | May 1, 2013 2:01:47 PM


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