by CHRISTINE SARKES SASSEVILLE
Stephen Schwartz of Wicked and Godspell fame and Director Diane Paulus have created a wildly entertaining and exhilarating revival of Broadway’s original 1972 Bob Fosse iconic version of Pippin, now at the Orpheum Theatre through Sunday. With soaring vocals, jaw-dropping acrobatics, charming and relatable characters and a cute kid and a dog, Pippin offers a hugely satisfying evening’s entertainment. Bob Fosse’s “jazz hands” version has been updated and stylized to reflect current tastes while still retaining his uniquely recognizable choreography. Paulus, who saw Fosse’s version as a child, has accomplished what she set out to achieve — paying tribute to the theatricality of the original while introducing the musical to a new generation of theatergoers. Casting NBC’s “The Voice” season 4 contestant Sasha Allen as “Leading Player” was also a brilliant move. Not only does she astound with powerhouse vocals and acting chops, but she brings her own pop culture street cred and fan base from her television appearances.
Broadway veteran John Rubinstein (King Charles), who created the role of Pippin in the 1972 production, Sam Lips as Pippin in this production, Kristine Reese (Catherine), and Priscilla Lopez (Berthe) also gave laugh-out-loud and touching performances. And the acrobats….what can I say about the troupe of performers from Montreal’s Les 7 Doigts De La Main who fly through the air, flip over yoga balls, perform classic magic tricks and execute superhuman feats of strength and flexibility while acting and providing supporting vocals? Just amazing. In casting the musical, Paulus said she found “circus performers who were also eager to sing and Broadway performers eager to clown” and we found the casting just about perfect. Chet Walker’s brilliant choreography blended seamlessly the circus and the Fosse.
The musical’s circus allegory for life and the themes of political and sexual upheaval relevant to the 1970s have also been updated to highlight our search for meaning in a often violent and superficial world. The story revolves around Pippin, a young prince searching for fulfillment and adventure through a series of trials laid upon him by the Leading Player, who promises a “final climax” like none experienced before. In the end, he must choose between two extremes — endless adventures or a simple life. Themes of love, sex, justice, fairness, boredom, tyranny and freedom are introduced through the magic of the circus and the power of illusion and movement. Because of the overt sexuality of the dancing and dialogue, my companion and I debated without success whether or not the musical would be suitable for younger audiences.
Pippin, Music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Book by Roger O. Hirson. Directed by Diane Paulus with choreography by Chet Walker. Music supervision and arrangements by Nadia DiGiallonardo, orchestrations by Larry Hochman, scenic design by Scott Pask, costume design by Dominique Lemieux, lighting design by Kenneth Posner and sound design by Jonathan Deans and Garth Helm. February 17-22 at the Orpheum Theatre, 615 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis. Tickets start at $39 (subject to change) depending on performance time and seating preference. Online at hennepintheatretrust.org, or call by calling 1.800.982.2787.