For Chicagoland patrons, the season is summer and the time is now to see the extraordinary touring production of 2013’s Tony-winning Best Musical Revival, Pippin.
Because this is not a mere show; it’s a spectacular.
Wrapped in a circus theme and punctuated by outstanding acrobatics, this revived treatment vaulted über-composer/lyricist (Godspell, Wicked, etc.) Stephen Schwartz‘s 1972 wonderfully introspective musical into 21st Century consciousness on Broadway and is finally making the national rounds.
This latest touring offspring of Charlemagne, based loosely on historical characters, features a troupe of circus performers, led by the evil and electric Leading Player, telling the story of Pippin, a young prince trying to live out an extraordinary life which, he presumes, includes passion and adventure. Returning from scholarly study, he first tries war, next looks to fight tyranny, killing his father and taking over the over the throne. When he realizes his mistake and inability to fix society’s ills simply, Pippin begs the Leading Player to bring his father back to life; she agrees. Next, the young man feels despair, falls in love with a widow with a young son, and is left to decide between settling into a peaceful life or pursuing ultimate magic promised by the acrobats.
A terrific, fuller synopsis and complete history of Pippin may be read here.
With nine Tony Awards (split between 1973 and 2013) and a touring cast including many of the Broadway performers, several bursting new stars, a couple significant celebrity surprise treats and extremely reasonably-priced tickets advertised all over the Internet, there is simply no rhyme or reason to miss this stupendous production.
Multi-accoladed Director Diane Paulus and Choreographer Chet Walker take Roger O. Hirson‘s haunting story and Schwartz’s terrific score, literally to new heights, incorporating Circus Creationist Gypsy Snider’s stunts and Paul Kieve‘s illusions. The opulent circus tent set by Scott Pask and gorgeous costuming by Dominique Lemieux are deliciously spotlighted by Kenneth Posner’s stunning lighting design.
Onstage, brilliant Sasha Allen makes the sexy and diabolical Leading Player her own from the gorgeous first notes of “Magic to Do,” the show’s extravagant opening number. Allen, once a finalist on NBC’s “The Voice,” is stunning in the role made famous on Broadway by Ben Vareen and Patina Miller, the first male-female duo ever to win Best Actor/Actress Tony’s for the same role. If there’s a suggestion for Allen, it’s only for her to make the audience believe more of the evil behind that gorgeous smile.
The boyish good looks and resonant voice of Sam Lips take on Pippin‘s title role with tenderness and strength. His rendition of the soaring, well-known ballad, “Corner of the Sky,” is simply beautiful. Additional musical highlights include “Morning Glow,” “Extraordinary” and the lovely Act 2 duet “Love Song,” with Kristine Reese as the perfectly cast Catherine. Indeed, Reese’s rendition of “I Guess I’ll Miss the Man,” is a highlight in and of itself.
As for the surprises, John Rubinstein, who originated the role of Pippin in 1973, is funny, commanding and generally wonderful as King Charlemagne (Charles the Great). His “War is a Science,” a challenging vocal exercise, is executed to perfection. And starring in perhaps the best musical role written for a mature actress is Arienne Barbeau as Pippin’s 70-going-on-27-year-old grandmother, Berthe. This star of stage and screen steals Act 1 with the show-stopping, “No Time at All.” While imploring her grandson to live each day to its fullest, the message reaches to the back row of the audience singing along with her. Barbeau earned a well-deserved mid-performance standing ovation on opening night.
Perhaps this show resonates all the more because it hits Chicago on the cusp of “back to school.” Or maybe it’s just this reviewer who connects the timing as he prepares for the first time to send both his kids away to college in the coming days. But there’s a not-to-be-missed mystic challenge to audiences of this wonderful Pippin.
How are society’s implorings to its young people… “Reach for your dreams,” “Be extraordinary,” “You can do anything,” etc. authentic in the face of life’s reality that not everyone gets what they want every time?
As folks seek their individual answers to this universal question, this writer encourages a deeper understanding of Pippin.
Look to your feet and appreciate the journeys, wherever they lead; use your mind and circumstances to explore all the possibilities; and above all, trust your heart, so you may choose the right journeys and possibilities (confidently rejecting the wrong ones for you) with faith in your infinite ability to give and receive love.
That’s the only “Magic to Do.”
Broadway in Chicago’s “Pippin” runs through August 9 by at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, Chicago. Tickets ($27 – $105) and more information are available online here by phone at 800-775-2000 and at all Broadway in Chicago box offices.