Pippin is Extraordinary

Over the years, time and again, when I asked people to tell me about their favorite theater experience, many of them would mention Pippin. I've seen the television recording of the classic version with Ben Vereen, and I've enjoyed a few excellent local stage versions. It's a great show with songs that stick in your brain and heart for days after. On Tuesday night, my wife and I saw the new Broadway revival at the Music Box Theater, and not only does it live up to all the hype it's been receiving, it surpasses it in leaps and bounds, flying beyond my wildest expectations, just as the performers on stage zoom and dazzle in death-defying feats of entertainment.

It's amazing that it's taken so long to mount a revival of this beloved musical, but the wait has been worth it. Directed by Diane Paulus and choreographed by Chet Walker, it is both an homage to the Bob Fosse original and a sparkling new rendition that will surely be a major contender for numerous well-deserved awards. From the spectacular set design by Scott Pask to the perfect orchestrations by Larry Hochman, the entire play is the definition of "crowd pleaser."

During the preview night that we were there, I was thrilled to see the composer Stephen Schwartz an arms-length away. While my mind tried to grasp that this was the musical genius who gave us Pippin, Godspell, and Wicked, my wife was excited to see another celebrity in the packed audience -- Lindsay Mendez, who was one of the very talented young castmembers of the recent Godspell revival.

The crowd was extremely enthusiastic and the energy of the performers made the cheers reach fever pitch during a number of showstoppers. I am amazed that the acrobats, knife throwers, contortionists, gymnasts, illusionists, and nimble dancers can do this night after night. 

Beneath all the razzle-dazzle of the metaphoric circus, however, is a poignant tale of Pippin, a young man trying to find his place in the world, asking the kinds of questions that so many of us have asked in our lives, searching for meaning. Matthew James Thomas is charismatic and endearing in the part -- he seems to be drawn to roles that require a lot of stunt work, since he previously played Peter Parker in the infamous Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark, and now has some aerial trapeze work and other dangerous but thrilling moments here.

Some of the highlights in a show loaded with them are the terrific performances by Patina Miller (from Sister Act) as the Leading Player and Andrea Martin (from My Big Fat Greek Wedding) as Pippin's inspirational grandmother Berthe. They both will surely earn many accolades during award season. Terrence Mann as Charles and Charlotte d'Ambroise as Fastrada were also outstanding, but the real eye-opener was Rachel Bay Jones as Catherine, who tugged at my heartstrings, made me laugh, made me cry, and in the end, made me so glad to have the chance to see this wonderful play.

If you have the opportunity, you should see it too. It's as "Extraordinary" as the song, one of the many that will joyously linger with you long after you've experienced this incredible production.