Although Charlemagne may have created an empire that dwarfed the very figure of his son, the new revival of Pippin has conquered Broadway. In a season marked by a number of standout productions, it will be difficult to achieve what Pippin's creative team has mastered: magic.
From the moment the production opens, it's clear that this revival is distinctly different from its 1970s predecessor. Marked by well cultivated talent, the thoughtful integration of illusion, and a set that immediately distances the production from the seventies, Pippin engages and challenges the audience in a way that is truly monumental.
As the first act took off during the performance that I attended on Saturday evening, I knew we were in for a roller coaster ride. Patina Miller's rendition of "Magic to Do" and overall spin on the character of the Leading Player, is a testament to her strength and versatility as an actress (not to mention her physical strength as noted by her well-formed arms!). Transitioning from her role in Sister Act to Pippin, Miller flawlessly makes her own journey through each and every song in a way that must make Ben Vereen utterly proud.
It is, however, the hidden gem found in the voice, humor, and presence of Andrea Martin, that the audience found reason to offer a standing ovation during "No Time At All." Martin's vivid emotion and her ability to immediately connect with those seated throughout the Music Box Theatre, made it appear as if the stage itself had expanded into the orchestra and mezzanine. Throughout the entire number, Martin's wit and spontaneity engaged the audience not only as viewers, but as participants. Visibly moved and caught off guard by the standing ovation, Martin handled it beautifully with the poise and humility that's characteristic of a woman who has truly dedicated her life to the theater.
Miller and Martin are only two of the incredible voices that make this production such a magical experience; however, it is the intelligent integration of illusion that enriches this timeless musical. In fact, it often fascinated me how well the use of acrobatics and magic enhanced the viewer's understanding of the story itself. These visual elements helped the audience to understand the moments of romance, battles, intrigue, humor, and illusion at far deeper levels than could have been achieved without such.
Equally important to the overall appreciation of this production is the set. In a remarkable use of visual analogy, Pippin's creative team sets the entire story in the middle of a circus tent complete with costumes and props that compliment such a theme. As the curtain rises, there's a moment of introspection when you realize that the circus is in fact a visual analogy for the life experience of nearly every human being. In this way, Pippin's placement in the heart of a circus invites us to follow one man's journey in a way that allows us to see ourselves through Pippin's struggle toward finding meaning in his life.
Pippin offers viewers an opportunity to escape reality while at the same time facing it in the mirror. Leaving Pippin, you too may begin listening to the voices in your head...