Review Roundup: ‘Pippin’

The first Broadway revival of Pippin opened on April 25 at the Music Box Theater. Featuring a score by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Roger O. Hirson, the musical focuses on the titular character, a medieval prince seeking his identity. The story is told by a band of roving actors, led by the charismatic Leading Player. The original production opened in 1972, won five Tony Awards including Best Director and Choreography for Bob Fosse, and ran for 1,944 performances. This production, first presented at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass., is directed by Diane Paulus (Hair, Porgy and Bess) and employs a circus theme. The cast includes Matthew Thomas James in the title role, Patina Miller (Sister Act), Andrea Martin (My Favorite Year, Young Frankenstein), Terrence Mann (Les Miserables, Cats), Charlotte d’Amboise (Jerome Robbins’ Broadway),  and Rachel Bay Jones. Most of the critics were impressed by the show’s razzle-dazzle. Here are excerpts from the major reviewers:

Andrea Martin and Matthew James Thomas in Pippin. (Photo: Michael J. Lutch)

Andrea Martin and Matthew James Thomas in Pippin. (Photo: Michael J. Lutch)

Ben Brantley, The New York Times

“Ms. Paulus’s Pippin is often fun (with an exclamation point), but it’s almost never stirring in the way her Tony-winning revival of Hair was. Only one moment, centered on Andrea Martin as the title character’s grandmother, achieves that kind of transcendence. And I would argue that in courting its audience, this Pippin is ultimately more cynical than Fosse’s.”

 

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News

“The final show to open before Tony Awards consideration, Pippin punctuates the Broadway season with a big, bold exclamation point. It is that extraordinary.”

 

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post

“Talk about going out with a bang! Broadway’s ending its season with a sensational revival of Pippin—a thrilling piece of eye-popping razzle dazzle filled with daredevil acrobatics.”

 

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press

“Paulus has transformed the players into a troupe of circus performers, and it’s a stroke of genius. It allows for a Big Top theme—think fire jugglers, teeterboards, knife throwing and contortionists—but also teases out the wandering nature of the mysterious players and zooms up the physicality of the story.”

 

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

“A medieval fable that makes a giddy hodge-podge out of Candide and Faust, bulging with sexy circus acts, magic tricks, tuneful early-‘70s pop-rock songs, elementary existentialism and comedy that runs the gamut from goofy and campy through grotesque and bawdy, Pippin shouldn’t work, but it does. Up to a point. Diane Paulus’ Broadway revival of the 1972 musical is massively, almost overwhelmingly entertaining, even if its audacious razzle-dazzle doesn’t mask the limitations of its book. Still, fans of this much-loved show couldn’t ask for a more energized production.”

 

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly

“Matthew James Thomas (Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark) displays a bashful, aw-shucks charm in the title role, and Charlotte D’Amboise vamps playfully as his scheming stepmom. But the unlikely showstopper is 66-year-old SCTV alum Andrea Martin, who takes to the trapeze to belt out her grandmotherly carpe-diem anthem ”No Time at All.” Dangling high above the stage, she embodies this utterly delightful revival’s big-top message: No matter our age, we need never outgrow the capacity for wonder. Jazz hands, though, are strictly optional.”

 

Matt Windman, AM New York

“Diane Paulus, who helmed the Public Theater’s visionary revival of Hair and last season’s Porgy and Bess, offers a stunning, circus-themed production that seamlessly combines dance choreography in the trademark Fosse style with countless acrobatic feats.”

 

Elysa Gardner, USA Today

“The flawless company is led by Patina Miller as the Leading Player, a role introduced by the great Ben Vereen and typically played by a man, and Matthew James Thomas as Pippin. The young stars work beautifully as both partners and foils: Miller, with her lithe body and megawatt smile, makes the Player both temptress and confidante, guiding Pippin with her siren’s voice and sharp, sinuous dancing through a string of seductive but finally unfulfilling life choices. Thomas brings to his part a sweetly robust tenor and an earnestness befitting a naif with vague ambitions but little idea of what he truly wants. He and Rachel Bay Jones, the droll actress cast as Pippin’s love interest, Catherine, relay a soft warmth that nicely juxtaposes the glittering precision of other ensemble members.”

 

Erik Haagensen, Backstage

“Standing out above all, however, and for only a few minutes of stage time, is Andrea Martin, in a sensational turn as Berthe, Pippin’s grandmother. I won’t spoil it for you by saying why. She is the soul of the show, and I think it highly likely that Martin and this heaven-sent production will each snare a certain award on the evening of June 9.”

 

Adam Feldman, Time Out New York

“Ladies and gentlemen, step right up to the greatest show of the Broadway season: Diane Paulus’s sensational cirque-noir revival of Pippin. Here, in all its grand and dubious glory, is musical-theater showmanship at its best, a thrilling evening of art and craftiness spiked with ambivalence about the nature of enthrallment. Chet Walker’s dances, which retain the pelvic thrust of Bob Fosse’s original choreography, are a viciously precise mockery of showbiz bump and grind, enacted by a sexy, sinister, improbably limber ensemble (in skintight carnival gear and medieval costumery).”