So last night I went to see the revival of Pippin at the. Music Box theater. A reworking of the 1970s classic, this version is directed by Diane Paulus (Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess). I’ve always been a huge fan of Pippin, coming as it did at a time in my life when the character Pippin’s search for an “extraordinary” life appealed very strongly to my high school sensibilities. “Corner of the Sky” virtually got me through my first two years of high school, including a move from New York to Pennsylvania. I never saw the original production with Ben Vereen and Bob Fosse’s choreography, but to say that I had it playing in heavy rotation would be something of an understatement.
This new reimagining of Pippin pays significant tribute to Fosse’s choreography. But there is so much more! Paulus has collaborated with some very talented acrobats, jugglers, and magicians to bring to life a Pippin that is sort-of Fosse-meets-Cirque-du-Soleil. The result is a production filled with incredible acrobatics, trapeze work, stage magic, knife throwing, and hysterical quick-change routines.
Guiding the cast through the pandemonium is Patina Miller (Sister Act) as the Leading Player. Her adaptation of Ben Vereen’s iconic role is gleeful, sharp, and at times even menacing. As Pippin works his way through war, politics, revolution, lust, and ordinary life, she’s hovering around him like an evil hummingbird, egging him on to try new experiences he hopes will fulfill him, but which only leave him feeling vacant.
Another standout in the cast is Andrea Martin, who, as Pippin’s grandmother encourages him to live in the moment, taking what joy he can from life’s simple pleasures. “Time to Start Living” sails way, way over the top with Martin leading the entire audience in the song’s rousing chorus, then finishing while performing a languid trapeze routine with Player Yannick Thomas. This number’s standing ovation was well-deserved.
Coincidently, Pippin was nominated yesterday for 10 Tony Awards, including best revival of a musical, best director, best actress in a musical (Miller), best featured actress in a musical (Martin), and best featured actor (Terence Mann as Charles).
I loved Pippin, even more than I thought I would. Diane Paulus and her phenomenal cast have brought us a Pippin for the 21st century, with plenty of magic yet to do.