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Pittsburgh by Ann Miner


Pippin
National Tour


John Rubinstein
Pippin may not be the greatest show on earth, but the staging for the new revival, now on tour, is a circus-musical theatre hybrid designed to entertain one and all. The tricks and feats performed by the cast (courtesy of Gypsy Snider of Les 7 Doigts de la Main, theatre illusionist Paul Kiev, and choreographer Chet Walker) are impressive and entertaining, alternately enhancing and distracting from the story. The tale of a young man's search for fulfillment (or "purpose") in his world, is set around 780 A.D. As the son of a king, the paths Pippin takes include the battles of war, sexual experimentation, revolution and domesticity. It's a universal story that can be (and has been) set in any age; it's the method of storytelling that is distinct.

Opening on Broadway in October of 1972, the original production featured the direction and choreography of the legendary Bob Fosse, which, along with Roger O. Hirson's book, utilized a a Leading Player character and his commedia dell'art troupe of performers to narrate, illustrate and guide the story. The circus motif is a logical extension of this. And it does modernize the show in many ways, dusting it off, so to speak, in the presence of a 1970s-grounded (but not without delightful song gems) score by Stephen Schwartz and a familiar story. The new staging occasionally appears to be pushing too hard, coming too much to the forefront, almost overwhelming the story. However, as a package, this is a very entertaining and less lagging presentation of the musical.

Sasha Allen is a sensual Leading Player; she performs the Fosse-inspired dance and movement well and is a potent ringleader. Pippin is by plot a follower, an observer, a discoverer—deep thinking and strong action are not in play. Even for this, Sam Lips is a bit understated in his portrayal; he sings well but without being transcendent (Lips is new to the tour and will likely bring more to the role with experience). A man who knows all about how to play Pippin is John Rubinstein, now playing Pippin's father King Charles—he won a Theatre World Award for his performance of Pippin in the original cast. Rubinstein is an animated, always in character, thoroughly delightful Charles, and a highlight of the production.

Recently joining the touring cast is theatre veteran Priscilla Lopez as Pippin's grandmother Berthe. Designed to be a showstopper, her big scene is well accomplished, as the beautiful and shapely Lopez becomes what Clive Barnes called a "geriatric swinger," in the best ways possible.

The current staging was originally produced by The American Repertory Theatre of Boston, and is directed by Diane Paulus. Along with her design team, particularly scenic designer Scott Pask, costume designer Dominique Lemieux, and lighting designer Kenneth Posner, Paulus has efficiently incorporated the circus theme, augmenting and sweetening the telling of Pippin's story.

Pippin appears at the Benedum Center through January 25, 2015. For tickets, call 412-456-4800 or visit trustarts.org. For more information on the tour, visit www.pippinthemusical.com/tour.php.


Photo: Terry Shapiro


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-- Ann Miner



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