BWW Reviews: PIPPIN at Music Hall At Fair Park
Like most theatre enthusiasts, I've always enjoyed Stephen Schwartz's score for PIPPIN, with "Magic To Do" and "Corner Of The Sky" easily being my favorite songs. That being said, the original production of the show (which, admittedly, I knew only from the VHS recording of the original Broadway cast, and a low-budget college production I saw) never resonated with me. While the opening of the show was always exciting, the show lost its glitter after the first few scenes. Then, in 2013, when I took a front-row seat at New York's Music Box Theatre to catch the celebrated Broadway revival, I found myself lost in this version's newly polished magic. The revival had won me over, and eventually I made two more trips back to New York (to the same seats) for two additional performances.
With a fresh makeover by director Diane Paulus, PIPPIN now takes place under a voluminous circus tent, which is exposed when cast members literally rip open the curtains to greet the audience. From that first moment, Chet Walker and Gypsy Snider's choreography is a feast for the eyes, forcing them to bounce between acrobatic acts, but rarely allowing you to take everything in at one time. In addition, the musical's score has been enhanced by contemporary new arrangements, and several characters have been drastically changed, namely the Leading Player (now a sassy, seductive female), and Catherine (whose humor and charm can only be experienced live).
Having seen this production on Broadway three times, I entered the Music Hall at Fair Park with rather high expectations. Although I was immediately disappointed that actress Sasha Allen (known for her appearance on NBC's The Voice, and theatre-themed film CAMP) was absent from her role as Leading Player, I'd heard frequent praise for understudy Lisa Karlin from other BroadwayWorld readers. As soon as Lisa appeared in silhouette at the top of the show, I knew I wouldn't be disappointed. She held the audience in the palm of one hand while holding the strings for the characters and action onstage in the other.The star of the production is truly the ensemble, who sing, dance, flip, juggle and even throw fire, but many of the principal performers offer stellar big top performances, as well: as Charles, John Rubinstein (who created the role of Pippin in 1972) brings a hilariously young energy to the dimwitted King; Sabrina Harper (Fastrada) seems to kick higher and sing stronger than humanly possible; Adrienne Barbeau (Berthe) not only succeeds in having the audience singing along with her 11 o'clock number, but thrills us with her shocking and surprising stunts; and Kristine Reese has a killer voice and infectious joy as Catherine.
Alternatively, in the title role, Sam Lips lacks much energy throughout the show, making his songs and stunts mostly forgettable. Although Mr. Lips technically has the voice, acting chops and look for the role, he seems timid in connecting with both the cast and audience.
Still, whether you're looking for a show full of spectacle or soul, the magic of PIPPIN will captivate audiences who enjoyed the original, as well as those experiencing the story for the first time.
PIPPIN appears onstage at Music Hall at Fair Park from July 7th-July 19th, and at Bass Performance Hall from July 21st-July26th. For tickets and more information, visit www.pippinthemusical.com.