The revival of “Pippin” is a celebration of everything right about musical theater — fabulous choreography, a true sense of fun, Patina Miller and acrobats. And it’s easy to see why this came in with 10 Tony nominations, just after “Kinky Boots’ with 13, and “Matilda” with 12.
“Pippin” has been updated since the show ruled on Broadway for five years in the 1970s, and made Ben Vereen a star. Now Miller plays the role Vereen had, as Leading Player, justifiably earning her second Tony nomination. She’s the circus ringleader, narrator and star. Pippin, son of Charlemagne, who is called Charles in this, is on a quest to find meaning in life. He’s educated, sweet and earnest. Here, Matthew James Thomas (Broadway’s “Spiderman”) plays the title role.
Stephen Schwartz’ music and lyrics, Roger O. Hirson’s book, Diane Paulus’ direction and Chet Walker’s choreography are flawless. Set under a big top, showcasing astounding physical feats associated with Cirque du Soleil, the actors are intent on having fun. And their fun is infectious at The Music Box.
Granted, it’s not the sort of play one quotes. Instead, it’s one to experience, and try to have as much fun as the actors.
Perhaps no one has a better time than Andrea Martin (Broadway’s “Exit the King” TV’s “SCTV”), who secures her spot as a stage goddess. Martin stops the show during the first act. The play was forced to stop as the audience cheered, many standing, and the other actors on stage just stood by, smiling.
Martin plays Berthe, Pippin’s grandmother. And as the queen mum, one might expect a subdued character. Once Martin loses her royal robe, she reveals a bustier leotard, fishnet tights, blue boots, and looks terrific for 66.
Then the grandma, looking for love, climbs onto a trapeze with a man who looks as if he stepped off a romance novel cover — all rippling abs and flowing hair — and does some extremely sensuous lifts and turns.
That number explains why she just earned a Tony nomination.
Martin is sly, funny and wonderful which means that she fits in perfectly with this cast. As Leading Player, Miller is fierce. She owns the stage, prancing about, egging on everyone.
The magic tricks are fun and the acrobatic feats are amazing. A couple of poles on stage remind us that they can be used for so much than bumping and grinding.
Broadway vets and husband and wife Terrance Mann and Charlotte d’Amboise play a married couple in this, the king and queen. Daughter of ballet great Jacques d’Amboise, d’Amboise shows her training in every move, every extension, shoulder roll and turn.
And it is that slinky, sexy dancing, with hats at the jaunty angle and the use of canes, slapping the thigh to keep the beat and knees bent that all but scream Fosse. Walker, who choreographed this version and was a Fosse protege, does a magnificent job.
Pippin challenges his father, falls in love and looks for meaning in all of the right places. There’s not a down side, or a down moment to this musical as “Pippin” proves it is truly a classic.