It’s been said that a musical has to have at least three ‘wow” moments to really grab an audience. Well, the Diane Paulus-directed revival of the 1972 musical Pippin has at least seven. The tale of a medieval lad searching for significance–dotted with both earnestness and shtick, like so many of composer Stephen Schwartz‘s shows–is done here with a circus theme that makes the work come to vivid, acrobatic life. The look of the piece is ambient, the physical stunts are eye-popping, and Chet Walker has deftly choreographed in the style of the original’s Bob Fosse.
The sardonic and arresting Patina Miller is the Leading Player who guides a troupe of actors through their paces–and lovely Schwartz songs–for a morality tale slash vaudeville show about how simpler values are the best, even when production values are high.
Matthew James Thomas is a sweet, winning Pippin–gamely traveling through war, power, and love to find what works, including taking his shirt off at one point–while wry Terrence Mann, saucy Charlotte d’Amboise, and loopy, lovable Rachel Bay Jones add winning support as key figures in his quest. And when Andrea Martin (above) launches into granny’s big number, “No Time At All”–about the need to stop and embrace the moment–she goes from deadpan humor and homilies to literally twirling on an aerial hoop with a hunk, resulting in at least five “wow” moments in that number alone.
Pippin is a wispy show full of idealistic views that always seemed aimed at the college crowd, but its charm resonates in this well-cast, beautifully turned-out production. And the closing sequence adds a hypnotic darkness that cements the status of Paulus (Hair, Porgy and Bess) as the queen of Broadway’s daredevil revivals.