Every Broadway musical worth its salt has one big showstopper of a number. No show currently on the boards, however, has a number as amazing and joyous as “No Time At All,” the ode to being young sung by Grandma Berthe. (Tony winner Andrea Martin, Young Frankenstein) This particular song appears midway through the first act of the Tony-winning revival of Pippin, now playing at the Music Box Theatre.
Martin not only sings about youth (in one of the score’s many great Stephen Schwartz songs) but she also proves her youthfulness by getting on a trapeze and executing a flawless routine that gets the audience cheering. This warm, beautiful performance is just one of the many pleasures of this great revival.
The show, originally staged in the 1970s, tells the story of Pippin (Matthew James Thomas, Spider-Man), son of King Charlemagne (Terrence Mann, The Addams Family). Pippin originally wants to follow in his father’s footsteps as a great king and warrior, but the realization that Charlemagne is a corrupt ruler sours him on this idea. He then sets out to find his “corner of the sky,” looking for fulfilling work and hoping to find love along the way. The story is narrated by the Leading Player (Tony winner Patina Miller, Sister Act), who tries to help Pippin on his way to riches and glory.
One way this revival differs from any other production of Pippin is through the introduction of circus acrobatics into the performance. Many numbers feature either actors (like Martin) or professional performers flying through the air or walking the tightrope, adding to the playful spirit of the show. These tricks augment the original choreography by the great Bob Fosse. However, there is one number called “Simple Joys,” which, as its name suggests, could do with a little less circus ceremony.
Director Diane Paulus, who rightfully took home a Tony Award for her work, gives both the big acrobatic numbers and the smaller scenes of dialogue the requisite weight. She also helped the design team to create an atmosphere of play that is ingeniously turned on its head during the show’s finale.
Thomas is a sympathetic protagonist. His singing is flat in the early going, but he nails his big second act number, “Extraordinary.” Mann is a charismatic monster, who gets some of the best lines of Roger Hirson’s book. Rachel Bay Jones (Hair) is funny and sweet as Pippin’s love interest. Charlotte d’Amboise (A Chorus Line) is a hoot as Pippin’s evil stepmother, and she also executes a flawless quick change during her big number, a great achievement.
Besides Martin, the other MVP is Patina Miller. From the first number, “Magic to Do,” she proves herself a divinely gifted singer, a great dancer and a catty, funny actress. She is a worthy heir to Ben Vereen, who played this role in the original Broadway production.
Pippin is one of the best shows currently on Broadway. Featuring sterling actors performing wonderful songs and death-defying acrobatics with equal ease, this production makes a case for the show as a treasure of the American musical theatre.
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