Written by Joel Beers
It’s the same song as the “Pippin” you may be familiar with, but the national tour of the 2013 Tony Award-winner for best revival of a musical is definitely not the same dance. While some aspects of the legendary Bob Fosse,
who directed and choreographed the production that earned 10 1973 Tony Awards nominations and ran for nearly 2,000 performances on Broadway, remain intact, this Diane Paulus-directed show is infused with aerial acrobatics and a circus-like feel that is often jaw-dropping to watch.
Unfortunately, it’s about the only thing that is exciting about the show. Although Steven Schwartz (“Godspell,” Wicked”) received a Tony nomination for his score, there’s a reason he didn’t win. The music is largely undistinguished and the lyrics less than inspired. Most problematic, however, is Roger O. Hirson’s book. The idea of Pippin was weird in the first place—a coming to age, Siddharthan-like tale of the quest of the youngest son of legendary Medieval king Charlemagne to find fulfillment. But the execution of that story—from soldier, to artist, to religious acolyte, to farmer to ritualistic suicide shaman—seems hopelessly mired in the pining, self-centered psyche of the Me Generation era. No amount of physical bells and whistles can overshadow that.
Sasha Allen is a dynamic leading player (the role Ben Vereen is most known for) although she’s a little breathy at times, and there are fantastic performances from the ensemble, who are as equally talented singers and dancers as they are acrobats. In the supporting roles, Lucie Arnaz is an eminently likeable Berthe and the lithe and leggy Sabrina Harris, as Pippin’s manipulative step-mother, Fastrada, nearly steals every scene she’s in. But Kyle Dean Massey, who shared in playing the role on Broadway, can do nothing with the terrible dialogue and motivation he’s given. The guy’s got a great voice, but his Pippin is more whiny and petulant than heroic and adventurous. You feel his frustration at wanting to live an extraordinary life, but you also wish he’d stop coming off as a spoiled brat. By the time he is forced with his climactic decision—The Lizard King perched above a flaming pyre and exhorted by the rest of his fellow troubadours to sacrifice himself for his calling—it feels less like an urgent dramatic moment, and more of an acid trip that wasn’t that trippy to begin with gone bad.
This 21st Century “Pippin” is a delight to look at it. But it remains a bore to listen to.
Date & Location :
November 11 – 23, 2014
Segerstrom Center for the Arts
600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, CA
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