REVIEW // Parts to perform, hearts to warm
Pippin is one of the best shows to hit RBTL's stage this season
On Tuesday night, hundreds of people trudged through snowy sidewalks toward the warm lobby of the Auditorium Theatre for the opening night of Pippin, that 1970s musical almost everyone has heard of—but many haven’t actually seen on stage.
The show follows the post-boarding school years of Charlemagne’s son, Pippin, as told pastorally by a magical ensemble of actors. The 1972 version was recently revived (and—wait for it—taken to new heights) with the daring addition of acrobatics and the expert direction of Diane Paulus. Pippin received rave reviews on Broadway and garnered four 2013 Tony awards, Best Musical Revival included.
Not surprising, especially once you’ve seen the show. The plot is delightfully irreverent and campy (think Monty Python’s Spamalot). With Chet Walker’s choreography and the show’s Fosse roots, it looks sexy and simple, like Cabaret. Part of the ensemble is composed of a Québec movement company, Les 7 Doigts De La Main, reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil. In addition to singing and dancing, these artists perform harrowing leaps, bounds, and flights during the run, eliciting frequent gasps and claps from the audience.
Scott Pask’s colorful, playful scenic design mimics the inside of a circus tent, and the fourth wall (that unspoken barrier between audience and actors) is immediately broken by the Leading Player (Powerhouse talent Sasha Allen, seen on NBC’s The Voice season four and in Broadway’s Hair), who guides the plot and Pippin in a role not unlike that of the Narrator in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Pippin (dynamic triple threat and easy-on-the-eyes Kyle Dean Massey) is a youth who, like many in Tuesday’s audience, is searching for his calling. That journey drives the action as he experiments with becoming a soldier, exploring his sexuality, starting a revolution, and holding court. At the end of each experiment, he feels empty—making him a relatable character for anyone who’s been twenty-two years old with “extraordinary” ambitions.
Tuesday’s crowd seemed to particularly enjoy Lucie Arnaz (daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz) as Pippin’s grandmother, Berthe. It’s clear that show biz runs through her veins: Arnaz, who’s now in her mid-60s, astonishes with her acrobatic prowess on the trapeze and charms as she leads the song, “No Time At All.” Equally fun is the appearance of Broadway’s original Pippin, John Rubinstein, as King Charles.
The second act is even more engaging than the first, aided by the introduction of Catherine (a ditzy, sweet-singing Kristine Reese) as Pippin’s love interest. By the end of the show, as so many youths before him, Pippin realizes he may have spent most of his young life pursuing the wrong things, and this realization leads to a fantastically atypical finale.
Pippin is a lighthearted show with a deep, subtle message—and unlike the opening song “Magic To Do” suggests, it's anything but a “waste” of an hour or two.
Pippin runs through January 18. For tickets, visit here.
Pippin photo by Joan Marcus; cast photo by Terry Shapiro.
Leah Stacy is the editor-in-chief of (585) magazine and a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.