On April 24th, one night before its official opening, Pippin dazzled, delighted, and blew me away. Sitting in the balcony of The Music Box Theatre, I was mesmerized by the dynamite singing, phenomenal circus creations and choreography, and the magic of this production, which hasn’t been mounted on Broadway since its debut in 1972. It’s impossible to take everything in – the stage is frequently busy, but not chaotic – but my eyes were glued to the stage from start to finish.
Patina Miller, in the role of the Leading Player (originally performed by Ben Vereen), was a powerhouse. With her first words – “join us!” – in the inviting opening number “Magic to Do”, the viewer is drawn into the circus tent and introduced to the other players. What ensues is a funny, charming coming-of-age story with very memorable songs and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz – they’ve been stuck in my head for nearly a week now. As Pippin, Matthew James Thomas was delightfully awkward and sincere, convincingly battling emotional highs and lows as he embarks on a quest for meaning and purpose in his life. Pippin’s father and stepmother, respectively played by real husband-and-wife Terrence Mann and Charlotte d’Amboise, brought humor and command to the stage. And Andrea Martin in the role of Berthe, Pippin’s grandmother, offered a brilliant show-stopping performance. If I say more, it will spoil the fun of her big number.
Director Diane Paulus’s vision wouldn’t be possible without the phenomenal Players, who include contortionists, singers, dancers, and circus artists. Whether swinging from a trapeze, walking down a staircase on their hands, or getting thrown across the length of the stage, they were an essential component of the story telling and humor.
Chet Walker’s choreography is in the style of Pippin‘s original choreography by Bob Fosse. Splayed fingers, shoulder lifts, and leg kicks abound. Patina Miller, in her black top hat, tight pants, and knee-high boots, was given the most opportunities to showcase Walker’s Fosse-like moves. And she did so with pizzazz and intensity. Her performance has earned her a well-deserved Tony nomination for Leading Actress in a Musical.
I applaud the creative team for infusing this revival with so much energy, innovation, and magic – not to mention a phenomenal cast. I’m eager to experience the magic of this colorful, lively production again.