Sleight of hand and an onslaught of acrobatic genius make the A.R.T.’s PIPPIN (playing through Jan. 20th) an old fashioned vaudeville hit. Back in the early days of the tradition, song and dance would be performed side by side with clowns, animal acts and lots of acrobatic derring-do. You’ll find them all in director Diane Paulus’ stunning revival, due to open on Broadway in April.
What made PIPPIN shine forty years ago was Bob Fosse’s cynical choreography for Stephen Schwartz and Roger Hirson’s episodic musical. Chet Walker’s dynamic dancing at the A.R.T. is still (styled after) Fosse but what ups the ante in Cambridge is a circus! Paulus tapped the talents of the Canadian troupe, Les 7 Droights de la Main (the 7 fingers of the hand) for the impressive legerdemain (from the French “light of hand”).
Back in the 800s, Pippin wants to experience more in life than his famous father has in thirty years of war. History doesn’t heap praise on Charlemagne’s son but history has little to do with the musical. The charming but inexperienced Pippin (Matthew James Thomas), like Candide before him, travels the word only to discover that happiness is found in one’s own back yard. (Now he sounds like Dorothy!) He journeys from pillar to post in this “anecdotic revue,” committing and un-committing patricide, ruling and un-ruling his subjects and loving and un-loving and re-loving a mother, her son and a duck.
I’ve seen Gypsy Snider’s troupe before, performing acrobatic impossibilities better than any circus troupe I’ve ever seen but I always thought there ought to be more. What was missing was PIPPIN! Paulus and company create the perfect synthesis of magic and story.
See PIPPIN for the acrobatics. See it for Patina Miller in all her “Glory” as the sizzling emcee. See it for Terrence Mann’s cheeky, Gilbert & Sullivan turn as Charlemagne, describing the vicissitudes of war. See it for Charlotte d’Amboise’s naughty step-mother but most of all, see it for Andrea Martin’s no holds barred granny!