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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!