When I heard the Nederlander Organization would be presenting the L.A. Premiere of the Tony-Winning Broadway revival of “Pippin” at the Hollywood Pantages, I jumped for joy. It is one of those musicals I have always wanted to see and until now, never had the opportunity to do so. This all-new production of Roger O. Hirson and Stephen Schwartz’s “Pippin” is directed by Tony Award winner Diane Paulus and features choreography by Tony Award nominee Chet Walker in the style of Bob Fosse and circus creations by Gypsy Snider of the Montrealbased circus company Les 7 doigts de la main (7 Fingers).
Loosely based on the medieval legend of Charlemagne’s son, Pippin, heir apparent to the Holy Roman Empire, “Pippin” tells the story of a young prince on a death-defying journey to find meaning in his existence. Ultimately it is a parable about a young man’s search for meaning and truth.
When “Pippin” opened four decades ago, Broadway audiences discovered a creative new talent, director/choreographer Bob Fosse. That was long before the then newcomer to the Great White Way set tongues and tails wagging with “Cabaret.” The handiwork of young composer/ lyricist Stephen Schwartz, who dazzled audiences with the groundbreaking “Godspell” a year earlier, and Roger O. Hirson (who wrote the book), the production not only introduced audiences to Fosse but to Ben Vereen and Jill Clayburgh as well as a young John Rubenstein in the title role. Rubenstein takes on the role of Charles in the current touring company, bringing both coldness and warmth to the Medieval King as he deals with politics and family matters.
What makes this musical so much fun to watch is that it takes place under a circus big top with acrobats performing deathdefying feats galore to enhance the telling of the tale, led by The Leading Player – Sasha Allen in a role she was born to play. Not only is she a fabulous singer who placed fourth on “The Voice,” her sharp Fosse movements seemed to flow from her soul. But then the entire ensemble seemed to be channeling the master’s stylized group choreography thanks to Chet Walker.
Two-time Emmy and two-time Tony Award winner Andrea Martin stars as Berthe, Pippin’s 67-year old Grandmother who has a trick or two up her sleeve and under her housedress. Martin wowed the audience on opening night with her acrobatics, all the while singing “No Time At All” and then encouraging all of us to sing along as the lyrics were displayed complete with a bouncing ball assist. Her midshow standing ovation was certainly well deserved.
Matthew James Thomas, who originated the role of Pippin in the current 2013 Tony Award winning revival, performs the title role in the current touring company. His character appears to be a modern-day young man, a college graduate dressed casually, searching for his way in life. It’s a nice contrast to all the other over-the-top circus performers. Only make no mistake; Thomas can take on the poles, hoops, as well as sing and dance up a storm.
During his journey, Pippin is rescued on the side of the road by Catherine, just your average widow with a young son and a huge estate which needs more work than she can possibly do by herself. Kristine Reese is lovely and very modern as Catherine, showing us the real insecure girl behind the circus performer playing the part of a woman out to get her man. She and Matthew James Thomas shine in their “Love Song,” adding a touch of humor as they struggle to sing, kiss and breathe at the same time.
Sabrina Harper (from the Pippin original Broadway Revival cast) portrays Fastrada, taking on her Queenly role with enough sexy pizzazz and bravado to light up the stage every moment she struts her royal stuff, especially during her solo “Spread a Little Sunshine.” Pippin is her stepson, so of course Fastrada wants to see his demise so her own warrior son Lewis (Callan Bergmann) can assume the throne instead. But just how far will she go to get what she wants? And how can any man resist her?
“Pippin” features music supervision and arrangements by Nadia DiGiallonardo, orchestrations by Tony Award winner Larry Hochman, scenic design by Tony Award winner Scott Pask, costume design by Tony Award nominee Dominique Lemieux, lighting design by Tony Award winner Kenneth Posner, sound design by Tony Award nominees Jonathan Deans and Garth Helm. The combination of the award-winning talents of such a support team along with director Diane Paulus guidance has created a spectacular, magical extravaganza not to be missed!
The performance schedule for “Pippin” is Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m. Tickets are now on sale to the general public online at www.HollywoodPantages.com or www.Ticketmaster.com, by phone at 800-982-2787 or at the Hollywood Pantages Box Office located at 6233 Hollywood Blvd. which opens daily at 10 a.m. Performances must end November 9 so rush to get your tickets before the run is sold out. “Pippin” is recommended for ages 9 and up. Please note that in consideration of audiences, no one under 5 will be admitted to the theatre. For more show information, please visit http://www.Pippin- TheMusical.com/Tour.