Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Extraordinary 'Pippin' at the Hippodrome


If there is one word that describes the production of Pippin that is currently gracing the Hippodrome Theatre stage is “spectacle.”  And if I add a second word, then it would be “extraordinary.”


Sam Lips as Pippin and Company Photo: Martha Rial
The enchanting musical that captured four Tony Awards in 1973, and 40 years later the 2013 revival added four more including Best Revival of a Musical, has been touring the country for nine months and now Baltimore audiences can enjoy this outstanding theatrical experience. 

With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Roger O. Hirson, Pippin, is a fanciful tale about a young man, Pippin (played exceptionally by Sam Lips), who is searching for the meaning of life and in the process is seeking fulfillment. 

As the son of Charlemagne (King Charles, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire), one would think that Pippin would have all that he needs.  In his mind he doesn’t, and his journey to be “extraordinary” is the central plotline.

Pippin is unique in that it features a traveling theatre troupe of circus-style performers, known as The Players.  Among them are acrobats, clowns, dancers, illusionists and gymnasts who perform a wide array of daring aerial stunts, pole climbing, and a host of other athletic body-contorting feats that are eye-popping. 
Expertly directed by Diane Paulus, this musical has a charm that separates it from the others.  It’s a play within the musical whereby a character named Leading Player (performed superbly by Sasha Allen, a top 5 singer from Season 4 of The Voice) who is, as you’d expect, the lead performer of The Players.  She directs and produces the play as well as acts as a narrator for the audience, and has a definitive interest in Pippin.  In the original production of Pippin, that role was played by Ben Vereen, who came away with a Tony.



This production of Pippin excels in every area

Ms. Allen excels with her dancing and vocal skills, comedic abilities and commanding presence on the stage.  Her rendition of “Glory” and her duet with Mr. Lips, in “On the Right Track” showcases the talents of both.
#hocoarts
Sam Lips, possessing striking good looks and a lithe, athletic physique, demonstrates multiple talents as the lead.  On stage for most of the scenes, Mr. Lips delivers a high-octane performance throughout with his movements on the stage and even in the circus sequences.  His rich tenor voice with a wide range is evident in the moving “Corner of the Sky” as well as “Morning Glow,” and “Extraordinary.”

As Pippin’s father, Charlemagne, John Rubinstein totally enjoys his role.  Mr. Rubinstein, who played Pippin in the original Broadway production, returns as the King who believes war is essential to holding the throne.  After he is killed by Pippin in an effort to seize the throne, The Leading Player resurrects him.  That tells you something about the zany plot.
Another scene stealer is the accomplished Adrienne Barbeau as Pippin’s free-spirited, fun-loving, dirty-minded, trapeze hanging, exiled grandmother Berthe.  Sassy and campy, Ms. Barbeau delivers a mighty theatrical punch in her main scene and scores with her number “No Time at All.”

Other cast members who turn in solid performances include Erik Altemus as Pippin’s half-brother Lewis; Kristine Reese as Catherine, a widow who brings Pippin into her home and soars with her song “Kind of Woman”; Sabrina Harper as Fastrada, Pippin’s conniving stepmother; Stephen Sayegh who works alternatively with Jake Berman as Catherine’s son Theo; and, of course, the skilled and acrobatic Players. 
The set, designed by Scott Pask consists of a whimsical circus tent with all the equipment needed to carry out the amazing stunts.

Larry Hochman and his orchestra ably supports the excellent vocals. Chet Walker’s Bob Fosse-style choreography is superb. Dominique Lemieux fitted the company in dazzling eclectic costumes especially those worn by The Players. Kenneth Posner’s vivid lighting and Jonathan Deans and Garth Helm’s crystal clear sound design contributed to the joyful experience.
This production of Pippin excels in every area and should not be missed.  Its only flaw is that it’s only here for a short time. 

Running time: Two hours and 35 minutes with an intermission.
Pippin runs through June 28 at the Hippodrome Theatre, 12 N Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit ticketmaster.com or BaltimoreHippodrome.com.

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