On Stage: Pippin

There was a scatterbrained tune-up before the orchestra began the familiar ’70’s pop stye introduction for “Magic To Do.”

Some in the audience immediately applauded, but then Pippin has that kind of effect on Broadway enthusiasts.

Most of it has to do with Stephen Schwarz’ smartly tuneful score, loaded with memorable songs like Corner of the Sky and Morning Glow, the kind of music that makes your heart sing.

Another large chunk of affection could be attributed to director/choreographer Bob Fosse  who once rescued an unwieldy story of King Charlemagne’s son and his coming of age and put it “on the right track” with a cast featuring an unforgettable Ben Vereen (Leading Player) and John Rubinstein (Pippin).

As it turned out in one of life’s little quirks (and a bonus for Pittsburgh), Rubinstein was part of the touring company at the Benedum Center, older and presumably wiser and robustly playing the part of Pippin’s father, Charles.

On the whole, this Pippin was one of the more experienced and interesting casts to pass through the Broadway series.

The “new” Pippin was Sam Lips, who understudied the title role on Broadway and made us distinctly aware of the boy king’s often awkward journey to manhood. Berthe was Priscilla Lopez, a Tony Award winner for A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, part of original cast in A Chorus Line, Nine, Company and much, much more. This grandmother was sexy as well as mesmerizing in her singalong tune, No Time at All, even twirling above the state in a suspended ring.

The whole cast was game in the adventuresome, derring-do staging that took place in a circus tent. I had some reservations, being brought up on Fosse’s unique body-popping style (almost to be considered a historical antecedent to hip hop) that graced movies and Broadway for so many years.

No kidding — he was The Man.

So I had to be convinced that circus tricks were in the best interests of Pippin. While there might be a few things to quibble with, undoubtedly director Diane Paulus came up with a spectacular vision.

It was a the right way to deal with the epic stories we all encounter — war, peace, lust and the like. These things form that meaty balancing act of life (symbolized by acrobats) and deserve a huge arena (peppered with mind-boggling circus acts that actually gave a suitably daring perspective to war). I mean, all I could say was “wow!”

Not that everyone had a handle on the Fosse style —  except for Molly Tynes, a long-legged Fastrada in the classic Fosse mold. As for a powerful Sasha Allen (Leading Player), an egocentric Callan Bergmann (Lewis) and those unheralded Players, that only heightened the impact.

But it didn’t matter in the end. Paulus was able to put her own satisfying stamp on this Pippin, adapting things to today’s whirlwind world without losing a sense of style and relevance — just like her predecessor did — and no easy feat.

 

 

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