You’ve heard the story a million times before: A young man searches for meaning inlife through a series of missteps and blunders. But you’ve never seen it like this before.
In its opening number, the new revival of “Pippin” promises intrigue, humor, romance, and illusion—and it delivers. “Pippin,” which opened on Broadway Thursday, tells the not-so-usual coming-of-age story of King Charlemagne’s son.
A recent college graduate and heir to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire, Pippin tries desperately to find his “corner of the sky” through war, sex, and a little boy’s pet duck. The new production transforms the musical into a thrilling acrobatic circus, heightening the hyper-aware theatricality of the show and creating a wholly unique theater-going experience.
The cast of players consists of acrobats-turned-actors who somehow manage to balance on one hand and swing across the stage on a trapeze while singing Stephen Schwartz’s score. Even the “regular” actors join in on the fun as they, too, get hoisted into the air and thrown around the stage by their fellow players.
The production is full of tricks—disappearing bodies, fire juggling, extreme balancing acts—which, rather than distract from the action, keep the audience on its toes and make the production magical in the truest sense of the word.
Perhaps the most glaring change from the original 1972 production is director Diane Paulus’s decision to cast a woman as the Leading Player. Patina Miller, who earned her stripes in last year’s “Sister Act,” brings a Gospel sensibility to the role, creating a level of excitement and intrigue that makes the audience forget a man ever played the role.
Her power is paired with Chet Walker’s choreography, which has been adapted from the original Bob Fosse style. Its precision and fluidity are endlessly riveting. Walker makes consistent use of Fosse’s signature jazz style, mixing it with his own choreography and acrobatics to gratify both traditionalists and audience members with a more experimental taste.
Matthew James Thomas shines, too, as the lovably lost Pippin. Two-time Tony-Award nominee Terrence Mann humanizes King Charlemagne, transforming the famed emperor into a loving, witty father. The rest of the cast brings just as much to the musical, supplying comedy and heart to the show’s first revival since its initial run.
“Pippin” is awe-inspiring in its staging and direction, yet still highly relevant for the confused college student, and to anyone with a fear of the ordinary and a desire to make themselves count.
We all might do well to remember Grandma Berthe’s sage words of advice: “It’s time to start livin’, time to take a little from the world we’re given.”