‘Pippin’ revival brings big top to Broadway

Courtesy of Joan Marcus for Music Box Theatre
Courtesy of Joan Marcus for Music Box Theatre

 

Maybe it is true that nothing is perfect, but in her revival of “Pippin,” Diane Paulus “nearly came near,” to quote the show’s finale lyrics.

The musical, written by Stephen Schwartz when he was in his early 20s, will hit close to home for the college crowd. It follows the life of recent university graduate Pippin as he struggles to find something extraordinary to do with his life. Although his version of the so-called real world may include acts of magic and a king for a father, he still deals, rather clumsily, with the same troubles facing all new young adults trying to find out who they are.

The show is narrated by the Leading Player (Patina Miller), who has come with her theater troupe to tell the story of Pippin. This device plays an important part in contributing to the idea of fantasy versus reality, a major theme in the show. “Pippin” deals with other grand themes, including the meaning of life, love and what having magic in your life truly implies. Such extravagant concerns can only be tackled by a musical, which is an over-the-top medium by its nature.

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Terrence Mann and Charlotte D’Amboise, real-life husband and wife, star opposite each other as Pippin’s royal parents, and they both deliver impeccable comedic performances, as does the entire cast. Matthew James Thomas, in the title role, perfectly marries the wide-eyed naivete of his age with the characteristic accompanying fear. His smooth vocals on his first solo “Corner of the Sky” signal to the audience early on that this is going to be a special performance.

Patina Miller, as the Leading Player, is a veritable powerhouse, easily measuring up to the iconic Ben Vereen, who originated the role. Her execution of the Bob Fosse-style choreography, particularly during the “Manson Trio” in “Glory,” an anti-war ballad, is sharp and haunting.

But the clear standout of the cast is Andrea Martin, in the role of Pippin’s
grandmother, whose rendition of “No Time at All” yielded at this particular performance a rare mid-show standing ovation. The
66-year-old belts the last verse of the song hanging upside down from a trapeze, proclaiming quite appropriately, “I believe if I refuse to grow old/I can stay young till I die.”

The circus elements of the show, courtesy of Gypsy Snyder and her troupe Les 7 Doigts de la Main, are miles beyond impressive. The feats of the performers are practically superhuman and require strength and flexibility that have to be seen to be believed. And don’t look for the wires — they aren’t there.

“Pippin” is now playing at the Music Box Theatre, located at 239 W. 45th St.  

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 30 print edition. Olivia George is theater/books editor. Email her at [email protected]

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