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An Electrifying Production Of Pippin
Golden Gate Theatre

John Rubinstein and Matthew James Thomas
Stephen Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson's Pippin has a brand new look as the national tour arrives in San Francisco. The Broadway revival won four Tony Awards last year, including Best Revival of a Musical. Director Diane Paulus has raised the bar to dizzying heights of imagination, amalgamation and originality with this new approach. It is a brilliant, magical production and the energy level is fantastic.

I saw the original production in 1972 at the Imperial Theater with Ben Vereen as Leading Player, John Rubinstein as Pippin, and Irene Ryan as Berthe. That production was much darker, both in terms of lighting and in concept.

Roger O. Hirson's book follows a troupe of performers telling the tale of Pippin, son of King Charlemagne. Choreographer Chet Walker retains the Bob Fosse style of dance as he recreates the hip rolls, articulating jazz hands and energetic kicks.

The new Pippin is packed with sexy circus acts, magic tricks, tuneful '70s pop-rock songs, straightforward existentialism, and comedy that is pure camp to farcical and bawdy. There are tumblers, aerialists, jugglers, contortionists, and balancing acts whirling away under a big top created by scenic designer Scott Pask. Circus Creator Gypsy Snider's effects are breathtaking.

The musical is overseen by a Mephistophelean figure known as Leading Player. This sexually enticing yet sinister carnival barker attempts to move Pippin to strive for the astonishing, even at the cost of his life, while deviously piloting him away from the simple life of love and family. The sexy Sasha Allen is enchanting in this role. She is a potent singer with an outstanding range.

Matthew James Thomas, who opened the role of Pippin in the Broadway revival, offers a superb and illusory, nuanced performance as the title character. He brings to the part a pleasantly vigorous tenor and a depth fitting a na´ve person with ambiguous ambitions who does not really know what he wants in life. John Rubinstein (Pippin in the original 1972 production) here plays Pippin's father Charles with some terrific hyperbolic comic swagger.

Outstanding is Lucie Arnaz as grandmother Berthe. She is absolutely marvelous singing "No Time at All" with a vibrant voice, as she twists her limber body around ropes and the bar of a trapeze high above the stage. Sabrina Harper is entertaining as Pippin's scheming stepmother, especially when sensually singing "Spread a Little Sunshine." Kristine Reese is charming with a sweet voice singing "Kind of Woman" as the widow Catherine in the second act. Callan Bergmann is a standout as the evil prince Lewis, and young Lucas Schultz as Theo, son of Catherine, almost steals the show with his lovely voice singing "Corner of the Sky" alone on stage at the end. Diane Paulus' direction is impeccable.

Pippin runs through October 19th, 2014, at the Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 888-746-1799 or visit Coming up next will be Kinky Boots from December 2 through December 28 at the Orpheum Theatre and Elf opening at the Curran Theatre on December 12 and running through December 28.

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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