Pippin: Glad I Saw It Ahead of the Tony Awards 2013
I saw Pippin last night at the Music Box Theatre on 45th Street. The show is beyond spectacular, and I don’t enjoy musicals for the most part. (I am not a great fan of Matilda currently up for a 2013 Tony for Original Musical). I was familiar with Pippin‘s score and book, though I didn’t see the 1970s stage version which made Ben Vereen a household name and which had the medieval template stamped all over it.
Well, this revival is one for the ages. Director Diane Paulus (Artistic Director of the American Rep. Theatre at Harvard, 2012 winner of Tony-revival the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess) along with Chet Walker (Choreographer) Gypsy Snider (Circus Creation) and others have evolved a breathtaking production. Phenomenal. The circus metaphor is pure genius (Is not the journey of life/career/war/hedonism/finding self a circus of distractions until one arrives at the end of oneself as Pippin eventually does?).
The performers are stunning, beautiful, iconic and truly magical which we have been told they would be by the Leading Player flawlessly performed by Patina Miller. I told her last night (Friday, May 18) she IS beautiful and magnificent, and if she doesn’t win the Tony (Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical) I will have to kill someone. Her performance is eternally memorable. She is almost maniacally God-like in her construction of events, with a tinge of malevolence and sinister allure. She reminded me of the Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret…caught up in the action, but strangely aloof, a player and a puppet master, all the while smiling and drawing us in closer, closer closer to and away from ourselves. While waiting for Playbill autographs, an enthusiastic audience member characterized her as “mesmerizing.” Yep! Was it Peter O’Toole who said, when a performer is onstage, “You should not be able to take your eyes off him/her?Well, that about sums up Patina Miller in the role of Leading Player. You have to see her. You just have to while she is still in the role. Please!!!!!
The show is two acts. The time flies. The dialogue, possibly through ad libbing morphs by the cast and tweaks by Paulus had moments of genius modernization and cultural reference. For example the Leading Player to justify the “Intermission,” quips a break is needed because the attention span of the audience is “shorter these days,” a reference to social media, computers, etc. and 80 minute plays with no intermissions. Andrea Martin in her superb, jaw dropping (She looks fabulous.) show stopping “No Time At All,” nudges Baby Boomers about looking great while reminding us how important it is to stay young as the time is passing. Martin received applause that did not stop until after a full five minutes. She is sixty-six (My fellow audience member quickly Googled this. It was just as Martin ad libbed in the show.) But folks, she looks like she’s in her 30s with a shape to match. She strips to her Gina Lollobrigida Trapeze outfit right before she is transported high in the air to a trapeze by her acrobatic, lithe partner who is sexy, strong, supple, marvelous. OMG. The two of them together did their act which reaffirmed the vitality of her agelessness, supported by the spinning, whirling, balancing, leaping, somersaulting, catapulting, gyrating Manson Trio (look them up, folks) and singers and dancers. It was a piece of heaven and an inspiration to all of us that we need to get back to the gym and into the Yoga and Pilates immediately and my God, jettison that last 10 pounds. Woo ooooo! And if Andrea Martin doesn’t win the Tony (Best Performance by an Featured Actress in a Musical) I’ll have to kill someone. (That makes two deaths.)
Along with the innovation of the circus metaphor, was the change in the conclusion/finale. The Leading Player keeps the actors steady and in focus in the play within a play structure conducting and orchestrating the flow of events and retelling of the story. An innovation comes after Pippin elects to not “Be Extraordinary,” (jumping into fire) but to be human in his desires and loves. The players leave the actors alone on stage and the lights are dimmed. There is no dialogue, only action. The son Theo (played by Andrew Cekala or Ashton Woerz) picks up Pippin’s cane or armor or whatever and you know that the cycle will repeat itself. Theo will take up where his step-father has left off. Every generation must seek and find its own place, must strike out its own path, must become extraordinary. If not the father, then the son. The circle and cycle begins again and the center circus ring opens and an audience will be waiting to watch another time, another place, another magical historical hero or villain like Pippin. The show must go on. As the Brits say, “Brilliant!”
Pippin is played beautifully by UK actor Matthew James Thomas who looks like he has been mentored by Hugh Jackman, for certainly, he is a young version (gorgeous, adorable, fit, with a voice and appropriate athletic presence). Thomas is so supple in his integration with the sheer physicality of being a part of the acrobatics at times, yet is believable as the rather naive and bumbling, disingenuous Pippin on the journey toward inner light and revelation of love and self awareness. This Pippin is matchless, ready for anything, living in the moment. During the shop stopping number by Martin, Thomas went with the flow, graceful, relaxed, in the moment (a reference by the Leading Player and granny-Martin) smiling at the five minute audience applause, appreciative for Martin. And somehow, Thomas never broke character. Now, in himself he was the character Pippin, played by an actor-performer of the circus troupe, as the actor Thomas. A bit of Pirandello thrown in for free in complete spontaneity and LIVE THEATRE MOMENT that can NEVER BE DUPLICATED. I absolutely loved it and so did the audience. I mean we were DOWN WITH HIM and MARTIN and the cast. A Wow moment. Later, signing programs, Thomas told us that he could tell the audience loved it. He said, “It was a good audience, tonight!” smiling at me. You mean there are BAD AUDIENCES? Ha! You bet…dull, asleep, who’ve eaten too much, overweight and from the burbs. And they come for the matinees and snore as their listening devices go off. HELP!!!
(Side Note about Thomas’ comment) There is an electrical charge and rhythm that flows between a ready audience and the actors. Both feed off each other and both look for that telepathic connection and vibrant, spiritual merging. Audience and actors bask in those connective moments. Both adore it. It’s what makes live theatre so great and so matchlessly eternal. And when it doesn’t happen? Live theatre becomes deadly and vacuous, rather like a computer screen that’s gone black and won’t light up IRRESPECTIVE of how much you press than “ON” butten. FRIGHTENING!!!! Last night, the connections were popping. We saw and heard and felt and transmitted to the actors and they were pumped. I don’t think I’ll ever go on a Wednesday night to a live show again. I cannot be dragged to a Wednesday matinee, ever.
Terence Mann looks like he is enjoying the play. The audience didn’t want it to end, and it’s apparent he’s having fun and felt us loving him. He was wonderful as Pippin’s father, Charlemagne. I don’t know if he will win the Tony for Best Performance for a Featured Actor in a Musical. He should. However, I didn’t see Keith Carradine in Hands on a Hardbody. I did see Gabriel Ebert in Matilda the Musical. Unfortunately, I saw him in the second show on a Wednesday night, not a particularly good time to see a show. He was pushing; his performance was not Mann’s. Probably Keith Carradine will win the Tony for this category. I may have to hurt someone if Mann doesn’t win the Tony. Two deaths and an injury. Hmmm.
If you’re coming to town, get tickets. Don’t wait. This cast will be around for a while, but after the Tony wins, the production is nominated for 10 Tonys, they won’t stay much longer. The validation will bring new opportunities. So please! Do yourself a favor. See a fabulous musical. Then come back and tell me you did yourself good. Pippin. Who knew musical theatre could be that good?