With the fabulously talented Patina Miller

Date:                 May 8, 2013

Theatre:         The Music Box

Shari on the Aisle Rating: * * * *

Lead Cast:     Patina Miller, Charlotte d’Amboise, Terrence Mann, Andrea Martin, Matthew James Thomas, Rachel Bay Jones.

Background:  The original Broadway production premiered at the Imperial Theater on October 23, 1972, and ran for 1,944 performances before closing on June 12, 1977. It was directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse. That cast included Ben Vereen, who won a Tony Award for his portrayal of the Leading Player, John Rubenstein as Pippin, and Jill Clayburgh as Catherine, Pippin’s love interest.

The show has not been revived on Broadway until now. The current production (opening night: April 25, 2013) is directed by one of the most talented directors working on Broadway today, Diane Paulus. Paulus won Tonys for her recent imaginative re-stagings of Hair and Porgy and Bess. The production was originally staged by the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Pippin garnered 10 Tony noms: including Best Musical Revival, Best Direction of a Musical (Paulus), Best Lead Actress in a Musical (Patina Miller), Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Andrea Martin), Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Terrence Mann), and Best Choreography (Chet Walker, who appeared in the original Fosse-directed production).

Quick Take:   The opening number, “Magic to Do,” will blow you away and live in your memory forever. Likewise, Andrea Martin’s show-stopping “No Time at All.” The second act, not so much.

Take Note: It’s no secret that Pippin is a show that’s very thin on plot. Here, it’s not “the play’s the thing,” but rather the music and unique Fosse-created dancing. Basically, it’s a somewhat meandering coming of age story dressed up in the “razzle dazzle” Fosse did so well.

Pippin, Charlemagne’s son, seeks his place in the world (his “Corner of the Sky” in the words of the show’s most famous song) and the meaning of life. Paulus’s version transposes the commedia dell’arte players of the original to a circus troupe, with the help of the awe-inspiring gymnastics of the Montreal group Les 7 Doigts de la Main. But she doesn’t stop there—even the lead actors get into the circus act. The always brilliant Andrea Martin can now add circus performer to her extensive résumé. As Pippin’s grandmother Berthe, the, 66-year-old Martin simply amazes as she performs the touching “No Time at All” while swinging from a trapeze like a born carny. Few numbers in recent history can truly be called “show stoppers,” but trust me, this one is. I’m pretty sure there’s another Tony in her near future.

In Addition: The astounding opening number “Magic to Do” is a mind blower. Paulus doesn’t reprise the famous original where the performers’ “jazz hands” appeared to float in space. Instead, all of the players perform feats of daring-do all at once. I didn’t know where to look first. And I loved Patina Miller’s performance. She’s strong and talented (check out those arms!) and takes a role that is very strongly associated with Ben Vereen and makes it her own. I know Fosse would approve her perfect execution of the famous “Manson trio” number, faithfully recreated by choreographer Chet Walker.

I lost some patience with the second act, as Pippin continued his search for self. But all was forgiven in the finale, which includes lots of acrobatics and pyrotechnics.

Trivia: Veteran performers Terrence Mann and Charlotte d’Amboise, who play Charles and his scheming wife Fastrada, are real-life husband and wife. I chatted with them briefly after the show and they seem delighted to be working together.

Should You Go? Absolutely. Both Fosse and Paulus are geniuses of the theatre. If you missed the original production 40 years ago, you definitely need to see the current show. We may have to wait another 40 years for the next Broadway revival—and who knows if that version will have a genius behind it?

Ticket Tip: Pippin has a daily general rush—$37 tix are available when the box office opens at 10:00 a.m. Also check out the Playbill.com website. I bought tix there for $99 each.



Show: Matilda

Date: May 1, 2013

Theatre: Shubert

Shari on the Aisle Rating: * * * * *

Lead Cast: Bertie Carvel, Gabriel Ebert, Lesli Margherita, Lauren Ward, rotating cast of 4 young actresses playing “Matilda.”

Background: Based on Roald Dahl’s beloved 1988 children’s book, the original Royal Shakespeare Company version of this musical won a record-breaking 7 Olivier awards (the British version of the Tony) in 2012. The Broadway production is currently nominated for 12 Tony awards, in a neck-and-neck race with “Kinky Boots” (13 noms). If life is fair, “Matlida” will win Best Musical. But as we know, life isn’t always fair. My money is, however, on Bertie Carvel to snag a Tony to share space on his mantle with his Olivier.

Quick Take: This is one show that actually lives up to the hype.

Take Note: Each performer is just stellar (especially Gabriel Ebert as Matilda’s sleazy father and Bertie Carvel as the monstrous Miss Trunchbull), and the creative team does an excellent job of preserving Dahl’s off-kilter creepiness. After the performance I thought about calling Child Protective Services—that’s how hard these talented kids work during this long, complicated show. They sing, dance, climb, and tumble.
In Addition: I especially enjoyed Tim Minchin’s clever lyrics. They are never predictable and always advance the story. The lyrics from “When I Grow Up” may cause even the most jaded grown up to become misty:
“Just because you find that life’s not fair, it
Doesn’t mean that you just have to grin and bear it.
If you always take it on the chin and wear it, nothing will change.
Just because I find myself in this story,
It doesn’t mean that everything is written for me.
If I think the ending is fixed already,
I might as well be saying I think that it’s OK,
And that’s not right!”

Another Highlight: The superb closing number, “Revolting Children:”
We are revolting children…
Living in revolting times…
We sing revolting songs
Using revolting rhymes.
We’ll be revolting children,
‘Til our revolting’s done,
And we’ll have the Trunchbull vaulting.
We’re revolting!

Should you go? Absolutely, this is a must-see show. But good luck getting tickets to this one, unless you’re willing to pay top dollar. For those in the NYC area, try the lottery—$27—register 2-1/2 hours before curtain. Not recommended for very young children—it’s over 2-1/2 hours long, and it doesn’t paint a very pretty picture of familial life. The money would be better spent on a baby sitter.