The art of constructing a musical to be produced on Broadway has greatly evolved in the past decade. While music, lyrics and books still play an essential role in a show’s success, one of the most important elements of most of today’s popular musicals is spectacle.
That is why it should come as no surprise that Broadway’s recent production of “Pippin,” which won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical in 2013, continues to be a smashing success.
The show, which runs approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes, is full of high-flying acrobatics, tense balancing acts and astonishing physical stunts by every single cast member.
The plot centers around a young boy named Pippin (a driven Matthew James Thomas) who attempts to find meaning in a world where his father, Charles (a hilarious Terrence Mann), rules over the land. Pippin goes on an incredible journey and, by the end of the show, finds out what it really means to live.
The real star of the production, however, is Tony winner Patina Miller, who slips into the role of the Leading Player with such fierce tenacity that she commands the stage with her enticing gaze alone. Miller transforms herself into the story’s narrator, and the audience is never quite sure if she is helping Pippin or trying to hypnotize him into joining her ranks with the other players.
Following the circus theme, the entire show takes place under a big top in which Miller and her cohorts serve as various ensemble members and figures that Pippin meets during his travels.
To add to the spectacle, each group number includes a multitude of impressive tricks that leaves the audience breathless.
The weaknesses in the actual story are made up for in the brilliant performances by each member of the talented ensemble. One of the most impressive, standout moments occurs when Berthe, Pippin’s grandmother (played with hilarious joy by Tovah Feldshuh when I saw the production in early January) delivers her impressive Act One solo. When she finished her number, the entire audience delivered a thunderous applause that went on for minutes with no end.
It is so utterly special to witness a show in which every actor is having the time of their lives on stage. There was not a single drab in the entire performance, and that is truly rare. Even when the show took a few dark turns, the cast delivered each line and dance move like it was their last time performing.
It was refreshing to see so much passion on one stage, even after the show has been running for over a year. No one had egos, and each member had their chance to shine without interruption.
“Pippin” leaves you awe-inspired, dumbfounded and joyful. And most importantly, it reaffirms that there is nothing quite like the magic of live theater.