Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Thursday, April 26, 2018

pippin-1930The cast of 'Pippin' performs Magic to Do at Broadway's Music Box Theatre in New York. Photo by Joan MarcusNEW YORK – "Pippin," the Stephen Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson musical that is getting its first Broadway revival at the Music Box Theater on West 45th Street, is directed by Diane Paulus, who staged "Hair" a few years ago and last season's disappointing   "Porgy and Bess."

Ms. Paulus's "Pippin" is a sort of three-ring Cirque Du Soleil with dances by Chet Walker (based on originals by Bob Fosse, who directed it in 1972), illusions by Paul Kieve and circus creations by Gypsy Snyder.

The story of Pippin (a fresh-faced Matthew James Thomas) takes us back to 14th-century England, where he turns out to be the son of Charlemagne (Terrence Mann, looking like a long-haired George Carlin).

Pippin is in a fight to find himself in revolutions and wars or whatever else it takes to establish a takeover of the dynasty. Pippin's ideas are more fanciful than historic. He finally ends up married to Catherine (Rachel Bay Jones) with a son and a duck.

Mr. Fosse turned the show's thin story into one big 90-minute vaudeville routine, with numbers by Ben Vereen, John Rubenstein and Irene Ryan, who was Grandma on the TV sitcom "The Beverly Hillbillies," and other members of the cast, who delivered one musical number after another.

Ms. Paulus's production is a little less frenetic than Mr. Fosse's, and lasts two hours and thirty minutes with a break. Filling in for Mr. Vereen in the role of Leading Player is Patina Miller, a "Sister Act" alumnae. Pippin’s stepmother Fastrada (Charlotte D'Amboise) does some wonderful dance numbers. Berthe (Andrea Martin), who comes out looking like she could be Pippin's grandma, suddenly turns into an acrobatic artist with the help of cast member Yannick Thomas. Ms. Martin does amazing things on the trapeze, and by the end of her song "No Time at All," she gets a standing ovation.

Mr. Schwartz's ’70s pop songs, like "Magic to Do" and "Corner of the Sky" still have a lilt and please audiences  no end. They seem to enjoy some of Ms. Paulus's Barnum shenanigans, and her comic silliness quiets down as the play moves into Act Two.

It's a different "Pippin" from over 40 years ago, but the characters live and breathe and laugh and bow and sing and dance and stir up a storm of pretty good entertainment.


"Motown" is the latest jukebox musical, celebrating the superiority of Berry Gordy, who produced  mega- icons like Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and a couple of record shelves full  of others. "Motown" is at the Lunt-Fonntane Theater on West 46th Street.

Insofar as "Motown" is singing and dancing and the audience is smiling and toe-tapping Mr. Gordy (here played by Brandon Victor Dixon) is a genius. And he's tripping with a first-rate cast. But then the music stops, the dancers leave the stage and every-thing comes to a lull.

Then Mr Gordy tells his story through his autobiographical book, To Be Loved: The Music, The Magic, The Memories of Motown, but the libretto he has fashioned with the help of script consultants David Goldsmith and Dick Scanlan just doesn’t light a fire for the musical.

He probably should have presented it the way Fats Waller did in "Ain't Misbehavin’" and Duke Ellington did in "Sophisticated Ladies," with the crooning guys and girls filling in the gaps. Or, he could have gotten playwrights Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice to fill in the blanks the way they did with "Jersey Boys."

However, Valisia LeKae as Ms. Ross is terrific, as are Charl Brown as Smokey and Bryan Terrell Clark as Marvin.  The show needs to be cut and redirected. But when the cast sings, it is pure bliss.

Theater critic Bernard Carragher lives in New York and covers the arts and entertainment.