If you’re looking for a fun night of entertainment, great performances, gutbusting laughter, and memorable music, the current revival of Stephen Schwartz’s (“Wicked,” “Godspell”) and Roger O. Hirson’s classic musical “Pippin” is for you.
The current road production takes the 1970s’ era musical and shoots it into the 21st century on the wings of its colorful costumes, grand and versatile set, and the circus arts worthy of any Cirque du Soleil show.
The musical is about the sole son of the emperor Charlesmagne. And the story follows the young man as he seeks his sense of purpose.
The national road tour’s success lies a great deal with the cast.
Sasha Allen, late of “The Voice,” takes on the role made famous by Broadway legend Ben Vereen– “Leading Player.” As Allen offers up a distaff translation of the role, she injects it with a great deal of sensuality and sexy sass. But she also clearly is in control of the players as their exacting mistress of ceremonies. Additionally, she proves the accolades on “The Voice” were well-placed. Her voice is strong, soulful, and commanding. When she takes center stage, she demands the audience’s attention.
Kyle Dean Massey also does a superb job as the ever-searching masculine ingénue at the center of the story. Massey manages to embody an innocence in Pippin, perhaps even a slight ineptitude, that ultimately is endearing. Yet, Massey also manages to carry himself with a royal bearing. We can believe Pippin truly is a man who may be bound for greatness. Like all of the cast, Massey has a fine voice, touching the heart with such centerpiece songs as “Corner of the Sky” and “Morning Glow” with pop idol-worthy tenor.
John Rubinstein also offers a memorable turn as Charlesmagne. Some of the funniest moments of the evening were delivered by the veteran actor (“Family,” “Crazy Like a Fox,” and many, many films) as he bantered with the array of other characters. And he was fabulous fun as he took center stage for the ensemble piece, “War Is A Science.”
It also should be noted that Rubinstein has traveled full circle, having performed the role of Pippin in the original 1972 production.
Lucie Arnaz also had a showstopping turn as Pippin’s grandmother Berthe. She was only truly featured in one scene, “No Time at All.” But it was clearly an audience favorite as the storied performer took on acrobatic stunts that left most of those watching breathless.
The individual players featured were all a joy. But “Pippin” is one of those shows where the ensemble shines. Not only does the entire cast command our attention in the opening number, “Magic to Do,” but without the magic, acrobatics, and circus-like performances, the show’s shine might have been a bit dim. The road show of “Pippin” is clearly a team effort.
While there is much to like, there are some troubles with the show—none of it due to the creative team involved with the road tour. The performances, direction, lighting, set design, orchestrations, costumes, circus stunts, etc. were all top-notch and entrancing.
However, the show’s vintage does pose to be a problem.
The central plot point, Pippin’s search for fulfillment… is very 1960s (1972 still resonated with the Woodstock era). And some of the ensemble pieces… with their Merry Pranksters’ type of feel, echoes some of the show’s Broadway peers such as “Hair” and Schwartz’s own “Godspell.” And the insistence on discarding theatrical conventions, again is typical of the era and, in 2015, it feels very forced and incomplete at times.
But “Pippin” is a fact. And switching it up to make the story line and structure of the show more contemporary is unlikely (although not unheard of, think of how Shakespeare has been revamped over the years).
However, that is a small problem, and may only have been a problem for me because the audience clearly was delighted by the performance as evidenced by the standing ovation.
As we all deal with the polar-like temperatures outside, it’s well worth warming up the car and heading to the Bushnell and checking out the roadshow of “Pippin” before it leaves Hartford after this Sunday.
I give “Pippin” at The Bushnell 3 out of 4 stars.
“Pippin” will continue through Saturday with performances today and tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m. at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. Tickets start at $21.
For more information, or tickets, go to Bushnell.org or call (860) 987-5900.