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.