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Pippin
Pantages Theatre


Sasha Allen and Cast
Andrea Martin's Tony Award winning turn as Berthe in the Pippin revival is, in fact, what featured performer awards were made for. Martin comes on stage, sings a single song, and exits, not to be seen again in the show. In her brief time on stage, she elevates the quality of the proceedings, captivates the audience, wrings ever ounce of meaning (both funny and touching) from her lyrics, and walks off with the show. Three numbers follow in the first act, but she is all anyone can talk about at intermission. Playing Berthe, Pippin's ever-so-world-wise grandmother, she couldn't be better cast. Indeed, the Internet tells us that Martin is 67, a delightful coincidence of circumstance that makes her portrayal of Berthe even more perfect. Don't get me wrong—it is great when an actor completely disappears into a role, but in a playful show like Pippin, there's an added bonus when you can appreciate both actor and character simultaneously. This Pippin revival does this twice: first, in the casting of John Rubinstein, who originated the role Pippin in 1972, who now comically chews scenery as Pippin's father Charles; and again, when this production gives Andrea Martin the opportunity to spectacularly establish that senior citizens can still kick ass and take names.

Younger audiences approaching Pippin for the first time might not entirely care about Martin and Rubinstein, and this revival has something for them, too. Diane Paulus's circus staging keep the energy from flagging. I was reminded of when I saw Barnum at the Pantages back in the early '80s—my 13-year-old self had been enraptured by the use of circus acts in storytelling, and I imagine young theatregoers today might respond to Pippin similarly. To be sure, I had initially been a bit skeptical about a circus-style Pippin, thinking the musical was strong enough to stand on its own without this sort of visual distraction. As it turns out, though, the circus overlay is probably what has made this revival so successful. Sasha Allen plays the Leading Player—the iconic role that won Ben Vereen a Tony—and Allen is a singer, not a dancer. She makes a valiant effort with Chet Walker's Bob Fosse-inspired choreography, but her physical presence simply cannot command the stage. But in this production, she doesn't have to hold attention alone; every Leading Player song is backed with eye-catching circus skills from the rest of the players.

Taken together, the first act is just all kinds of fun. As we follow the journey of Pippin (Matthew James Thomas, in full-on teenager mode, alternatingly overenthusiastic and petulant) as he tries to find his place in the world. There are occasional moments of darkness, but it is mostly a diverting romp through Pippin's experiments with different approaches to adulthood.

And then there's the second act. I will be completely honest here: I've never liked the second act of Pippin, and I'm coming to think I just never will. The pace wanes; the songs aren't as strong; and I just don't like the way the ending goes down. When it's well done—as it is here—it is undeniably moving, but it just doesn't work for me. Pippin is presented with a false dichotomy; the choice he makes is the obvious one, given the alternative. But there truly are other options, and if Pippin is only making his decision because it beats the only other (apparent) alternative, it isn't a real decision at all (and won't be lasting).

Even with my disappointment in the second act, I still have to recommend this Pippin, for the first act in general and Andrea Martin's "No Time at All" in particular. It is rare that I get so effusive over a single song that I'm willing to overlook my substantial issues with the remainder of a musical. But this is one of those rare moments of theatrical magic in which performer, role, and staging come together to create something genuinely special.

Pippin runs at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood through November 9, 2014. For tickets and information, see www.HollywoodPantages.com. For more information on the tour, visit /www.pippinthemusical.com/tour.php.

Pantages Theatre, Barry and Fran Weissler, Howard and Janet Kagan, Lisa Matlin, Kyodo Tokyo, Stephen E. McManus, A&A Gordon, Tom Smedes/Peter Stern, Broadway Across America, Independent Presenters Network, Norton Herrick, Allen Spivak, Rebecca Gold, David Robbins/Bryan S. Weingarten, Philip Hagemann/Murray Rosenthal, Hugh Hayes/Jonathan Reinis/Jamie Cesa, Jim Kierstead/Carlos Arana/Myla Lerner, Ben Feldman, Just For Laughs Theatricals, Square 1 Theatrics, Sharon A. Carr/Patricia R. Klausner, Wendy Federman/Carl Muellenberg, Infinity Theatre Company/Michael Rubenstein, Michael A. Alden/Dale Badway/Ken Mahoney present The American Repertory Theater production of Pippin. Book by Roger O. Hirson; Music & Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Scenic Design by Scott Pask; Lighting Design by Kenneth Posner; Costume Design by Dominique Lemieux; Sound Design by Jonathan Deans & Garth Helm; Illusions by Paul Kieve; Casting Telsey + Company; Original Casting Duncan Stewart/Benton Whitley; Tour Booking Agency The Booking Group/Meredith Blair; Company Manager Bill Schaeffer; Tour Marketing and Press Anita Dloniak & Associates, Inc.; Advertising SpotCo; Music Coordinator John Miller; Music Director Ryan Cantwell; Associate Director Fred Hanson; Technical Supervisor Jake Bell; Associate Choreographers Mark Burrell & Brad Musgrove; Production Supervisor Mahlon Kruse; Creative Producer Alecia Parker; General Manager B.J. Holt; Orchestrations by Larry Hochman; Music Supervision and Arrangements by Nadia DiGiallonardo; Circus Creation by Gypsy Snider of Les 7 doigts de la main; Choreography by Chet Walker in the style of Bob Fosse; Directed by Diane Paulus.

Cast:
Leading Player - Sasha Allen
Fastrada - Sabrina Harper
Berthe - Andrea Martin
Lewis - Callan Bergmann
Charles - John Rubinstein
Pippin - Matthew James Thomas
Catherine - Kristine Reese
Theo (Weds., Fri., Sat. mat., Sun. eve.) -- Lucas Schultz
Theo (Tues., Thurs., Sat. eve., Sun. mat.) - Zachary Mackiewicz
The Players - Skyler Adams, Sascha Bachmann; Bradley Benjamin, Dmitrious Bistrevsky, Mark Burrell, Mathew deGuzman, Fernando Dudka, Mirela Golinska Roche, Kelsey Jamieson, Preston Jamieson, Lisa Karlin, Alan Kelly, Melodie Lemoureux, Tory Trowbridge, Mackenzie Warren, Borris York.


Photo: Terry Shapiro


- Sharon Perlmutter






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