Pippin at American Repertory Theater

The American Repertory Theater’s new production of pippin instantly earns my bias because 1. I love circus 2. I Love Pippin. And 3. I’m in Boston. Should you also meet these three criteria then this show will be also be fantastic event that you don’t want to miss out on. The main problem with staging a revival of Pippin is that the 40 year old musical is definitely a product of the 70s. It’s also a show that’s not about the plot, (Try to sell pippin to someone whose never seen it without talking about the music is a herculean feat) but rather the cumulative extravaganza themed around the episodes of Pippin’s life.

Also, when one is staging a revival of a play this old, one needs a strong gimmick to keep it fresh (and the original Pippin was about as gimmicky as you can get). While excited, I was worried during the first act that the circus would overwhelm the experience of the show. At first the masterful performers of 7 digits of the mind (The team behind the beloved PSY) do tend to take the spotlight and at the sight of the grand spectacle did divorce me from the show. However all worries were gone by the second act, which provided everything the first act didn’t.

Pippin’s concept is that it is the ultimate play with promises of magic. This is handled remarkably well with the production. The numbers blended circus tropes very naturally for the most part and I won’t spoil them here. Needless to say they are very good. This is a Pippin for the 21st century. Gone are the big baroque grotesqueries of the original vision, replaced with an almost applestore cleanliness with a circus aesthetic.

The cast (Nearly all of whom are making their ART debuts) are fabulously talented and bring all of the cartoony characters to life, never wasting a solo and owning each number. The lead player Patina Miller, takes many dance move from the original LP played by Vereen, but is remiscent of modern pop star Janelle Monae. Miller’s body language and voice own the stage, pulling of the Manson Trio with two men backing her. The main character Pippin is also appropriately brought to life by former spider man Matthew James Thomas. Pippin is normally the least likeable character in the show (Since the plot is literally him complaining the entire show) but with his long sleeved shirt and almost hairy potter sensibilities, he feels more like a lovable (Albeit ripped) dork then a moron. That isn’t to belittle the show stealing Terrance Mann, Charlotte d’Ambroise, and Andrea Martin, each of whom dominated their respective numbers. Though It was Rachel Bay Jones as Catherine whose bright personality bought the necessary humanity in with the big circus sets. Fortunately the big stars of the show are Bob Fosse and his inescapable show defining choreography (most of which was transplanted from the original) and Stephen Schwartz’s irresistible music.

The Finale is somewhat muted for me because Boston fire code prevents live fire from being used on stage, but the ending image is perfectly executed and will likely haunt to the day you diiiiiiiiiieeeeee, ay-yayayayay. Nanananana yeah!

By Luke Palmer

If you liked this, check out:
Dinosaur Jr. at the Paradise
Kaki King at Brighton Music Hall

3 Responses to Pippin at American Repertory Theater

  1. Gee, I love both the circus and Pippin in equal parts too, but I have the exact opposite feeling about this production. Unlike the original (maybe I have high expectations because I saw it on Broadway with the original cast), the performances lack nuance and chemistry. I believe that the circus acts did detract from almost the entire show–it was almost as if the director used the circus device to cover up her shoddy direction.

    The original was over the top and indeed Pippin was not a very likeable character until the very end, but this Pippin was even more over the top and Pippin was not likeable because he was a complete blank slate and didn’t really act. He sang beautifully, but there was no heart in it, except maybe for “Love Song” with Catherine, whose performance was the only one who registered any kind of emotion for me. I also could not reconcile Andrea Martin’s grandmother stripping down and doing a circus act with a man more than half her age while singing “Give me a night that’s romantic and long and give me a month to get ready”).

    Maybe my expectations were too high because the Broadway version was the best show I’d ever seen, but when I asked my 14 year-old, who loves the music and has never seen a production before, what she thought, she said “I thought the singing would be better, and I thought the colors were weird.” And my daughter loves bright colors!

    All but one person in my group agreed with my assessment. Had the actors been a little more sincere, the chemistry better, the costumes, sets, and make-up a little more muted and grungy, this might have been a magical production. Alas, I feel as though I did “come and waste an hour or two.”

    I

    Ellen Gitelman December 20, 2012 at 9:50 AM Reply
  2. Great music, great spectacle, good performances. I liked it.

    Its not perfect. Almost all of the songs are classics, but I’d cut the ones that aren’t. who needs them? The 1st act is episodic, the 2nd act works better, the finale was almost great, but it will take some trimming to get it to fly on Broadway. I think it can be done.

    Wayne Olson December 30, 2012 at 12:19 AM Reply
  3. I saw this production and loved it. I thought the acrobats were amazing. The singers were excellent. I have seen several productions of Pippin over the years, even the Ben Vereen production, this one was great. The staging kept it moving and was well thought out. Thanks to the talented cast,crew,musicians and production folks who worked hard to bring a quality production to A R T.

    Kathy MacFarlane December 30, 2012 at 7:27 PM Reply

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