Winner of four 2013 Tony Awards, including Best Musical Revival, Pippin captivatingly combines the jaw-dropping effects and breathtaking acrobatics of Les doigts de la main (7 Fingers) with the soaring songs of Stephen Schwartz and sizzling Bob Fosse-like choreography of Chet Walker, in its DC debut at the National Theatre.
With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Roger O. Hirson, Pippin is a coming-of-age story, following the renegade prince, Charlemagne’s son, as he searches for life’s meaning in war, sex, power and ordinary life.
Set on a simple, yet multi-functional and vibrant stage, featuring a bright blue canopy with white stars, Pippin (Kyle Dean Massey) tries everything to make his life exciting from engaging in war, entertaining an orgy, usurping his father’s throne as ruler of the Holy Roman Empire and even trying his hand at working on a widow’s farm. The show, which takes theatrical liberties with the real-life story, depicts Pippin as a bookish boy, determined to find total fulfillment — or, as he puts, it, his “corner of the sky.” And Kyle’s gorgeous tenor is also showcased in “Morning Glow’ and “Extraordinary.”
With innovative staging and brisk pacing, Director Diane Paulus brilliantly leads an outstanding ensemble cast who excels on all fronts. Clad in eye-catching costumes, ranging from sequin-scantily to medieval glam, designed by Dominque Lemieux, each of the 24 performers, in one moment or another, whoosh through the air, shimmy up poles and dangle from ropes like professional Barnum & Bailey burlesque performers.
Sasha Allen, who rose to fame as a finalist on fourth season of NBC’s The Voice, plays the Leading Player of the mysterious metatheatrical troupe that dares Pippin to dream big and live large. Confident, commanding and take-charge, Allen’s voice is powerful with a glorious range, luring Pippin from one misadventure to another, and what gorgeous singing we hear in her renditions of “Magic to Do!”, “Glory,” and “On the Right Track” with Massey.
John Rubinstein, who originated the title role in the 1972 Broadway production of Pippin is a comic delight as Pippin’s father, Charlemagne, king of the Holy Roman Empire. He delivers a rollicking version of “War is a Science.”
Sabrina Harper is fabulous as Fastrada, Pippin’s manipulative stepmother, who wants her self-absorbed son, Lewis (Callan Bergmann), to be next in line to the throne. Her performance of “Spread a Little Sunshine” was deliciously evil and hilarious.
Kristine Reese makes a lovably loose Catherine, the free-spirited widow who coaxes Pippin to settle down on her estate farm with her and her son, Theo (Zachary Mackiewicz, who was marvelous at Wednesday night’s reviewed performance, alternates in the role with Lucas Schultz). Reese performs a sweet “And There He Was” and beautiful harmonies with Massey on “Love Song.”
The evening’s showstopper was Lucie Arnaz, as Pippin’s naughty grandmother, Berthe. Feisty yet warm-hearted, Berthe sings of life’s simple pleasures (“No Time at All”) as the audience is encouraged to join in the chorus. Rolla Bolla extraordinaire Dmitrious Bistrevsky takes the 63-year-old Arnaz to the air, where she effortlessly sings a verse hanging upside-down.What a trouper!
Melding extraordinary circus acrobatics and musical illusions with accomplished acting, singing, and dancing, Pippin is visually stunning, immensely entertaining and is truly a thrilling production that lives up to the hype, buzz, raves, and its four Tonys. It’s the perfect holiday gift!
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Pippin plays through January 4, 2015 at National Theatre – 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, visit the National Theatre Box Office, call (800) 514-3849, or purchase them online.
Kyle Dean Massey’s website.
Broadway Royalty Returns to Broadway: A Chat with John Rubinstein on Joining the Cast of ‘Pippin’ by Teresa McCormick Ertel.
‘Pippin’ is Playing at The National Theatre: An Interview with Kyle Dean Massey on Playing Pippin by Teresa McCormick Ertel.