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BWW Reviews: PIPPIN Revival Jumps Through Hoops

Bob Fosse didn't just direct the original production of Pippin. He rewrote it enough that the writing credit changed to "Book by Roger O. Hirson and Bob Fosse". In the latest incarnation, which arrived at Tempe's Gammage Auditorium on Tuesday, Mr. Fosse's name has disappreared from the authorship and 40 years later Stephen Schwartz and Mr. Hirson (mostly) get their show back.

It's not a secret. Fosse depicted the conflict in ALL THAT JAZZ. His semi-autobiographical film earned 1979 Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Director and includes a well-noted scene in a rehearsal hall. Fosse, or rather his fictional counterpart, debuts new choreography for the writers and producers of a new show. The number starts conservative then gets very dark and increasingly sexy. The baffled composer is not pleased.

The song is "Take Off with Us" and is one of Fosse's most expert triumphs. Here it is:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6rv4IvjaC78

The scenario might seem familiar. Paula Abdul's 1989 video for the song "Cold Hearted" was a tribute to it. The rehearsal room set up, the mid-song switch, and it even used some of the moves. Here it is:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7aShcmEksw

Schwartz and Hirson conceived a PG musical. The "Leading Player" was an aged, stationary narrator completely unlike the dynamic star vehicle first depicted by Ben Vereen. And while that is the best example of Fosse's permanent stamp on the show, forty years later the original authors must be pleased they've had the final say.

The revised version played Broadway last season to acclaim. Director Diane Paulus proves PIPPIN works less abstract. It works a little less over-sexed and it works with Chet Walker's choreography we'll call "Simpli-fosse". Her inexhaustable use of magic and acrobatics is exciting, Bob Fosse's original choreography was groundbreakingly stylish.

We can now see Pippin as a master's template. These two directors rescue a show that is dreadful on the page. The score is largely unremarkable. Although "Glory" is a perfect power number full of incongruity and "Morning Glow" is a marvelous Act I closer. The script pounds abstraction as if it discovered breaking the fourth wall and the plot is standard. Young man seeks fulfilment, collects life lessons, then changes his fulfillment concept.

In this tour, Kyle Dean Massey as Pippin and Kristine Reece as Katherine are incredible singers, but the vocal talent of Sasha Allen as the Leading Player commands the evening. All the principles achieve their roles, and a special delight was Lucie Arnez. The Broadway veteran and daughter of Lucille Ball was an unexpected treat to discover in the program. She won the audience with comedy and wowed them by completing a difficult set of trapeze moves.

This PIPPIN is charming with a 2 to 1 smile to eyeroll ratio. That's unexpected from a 1970s musical comedy. It plays Gammage Auditorium through Sunday, December 7th.

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From This Author Tim Shawver

Tim is a Phoenix area actor and director with 100+ theatre credits including work with Phoenix Theatre (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson), Actors Theatre (The Lieutenant (read more...)

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