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Under a hallowed circus tent, an ambitious prince sets out on a quest to live an extraordinary life. It’s a declaration that touched Broadway for the first time in 1972 with Stephen Schwartz’s enchanted musical Pippin, which centers on a young man who yearns to find his greatest joy and his own, unique “Corner of the Sky.”
Photo: Joan Marcus
Originally directed by legendary choreographer Bob Fosse, Pippin shatters the fourth wall, inviting theatergoers on the title character’s journey alongside an eccentric and bewitching circus troupe.
This time around, director Diane Paulus (Hair; Porgy and Bess) brings a balanced concoction of magic, whimsy, and humanity to the show. Paying homage to the big top mystique, Paulus—working alongside “circus creator” Gypsy Snider of Les 7 doigts de la main (7 fingers)—puppeteers a cast of high-flying acrobats, muscle-bound hunks, perfectly synchronized dancers, and an adorable leaping pup. And that’s just the ensemble.
Anthony Wayne, Patina Miller, Andrew Fitch. Photo: Michael J. Lutch
Taking on the role of Leading Player, Patina Miller sheds the nun’s habit from her Tony-nominated performance in Sister Act for a far more fitted costume, demonstrating power and prowess in a demanding dance role. With choreography by Chet Walker (in the style of Fosse), Miller’s precision and sharp movements create spellbinding visuals as she guides Pippin on his adventures with a feminine sass and strength that offer a major contrast to those of the original cast’s Leading Player, Ben Vereen.
Notably, it is only towards the show’s conclusion that the Leading Player’s position as show runner collides with the true hero—the golden-natured Pippin.
Brit-born Matthew James Thomas, fresh from Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark (he was Reeve Carney’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man alternate), brings an eagerness and optimism to the title role.
Matthew James Thomas. Photo: Joan Marcus
According to Thomas, “The team, the idea, and the opportunity to try something that I knew would be a challenge—physically, mentally, and even socially” is what drew him to the revival. “The idea of being in this production—from the feeling in my first meeting with the team—was completely exciting,” he adds.
For the role, Thomas reprises some of the thrill and physicality of Spidey in a totally different, but ultimately viable, other world. “With Pippin, the physical challenges actually present more instant danger that I am fully responsible for, so I drink lots of coffee,” he admits.
In awe of his fellow cast members and the creative team, Thomas revels in a sequence titled “GLORY,” in which the Leading Player goes full-on Fosse in a meticulously choreographed dance number juxtaposed against the backdrop of war. “Can you tell me how dance and music go hand-in-hand perfectly with the concept of bloody war?” Thomas wonders. “Stephen’s timeless music and [Larry Hochman’s] orchestrations are epic. They have an edgy, ’70s, dark feel and they always give me shivers.”
Charlotte d'Amboise performing "Spread a Little Sunshine." Photo: Joan Marcus
As for the balance of “Who’s Who In The Cast,” suffice it to say that Pippin audiences are privy to a dynamic array of headliners. It doesn’t hurt that Tony nominee Charlotte D’Amboise plays the role of Fastrada, or that she joins her real-life husband, Terrence Mann (a Tony nominee for Beauty and the Beast and Les Misérables), in the musical. Rachel Bay Jones (Hair) soars in the second act as Catherine, a widow and farm owner who falls in love with Pippin.
Andrea Martin & Matthew James Thomas. Photo: Joan Marcus
Tony winner Andrea Martin, as Pippin’s grandmother, proves age ain’t nothing but a measly number, a fact that comes across loud and clear in her pièce de résistance, “No Time At All.” Not only does it offer a killer sing-along while she executes complex acrobatic maneuvers in a revealing corset, the SCTV veteran also manages to achieve a coveted theatrical coup: a mid-performance standing ovation.
In the final act, Pippin’s hunt for an extraordinary life takes a turn towards a much more human quality. Through lessons learned, maturity gained, and a uniquely profound “Love Song,” the wide-eyed prince learns to see the extraordinary in the ordinary, the everyday magic found in reality—not without mind-bending spectacle, awesome performances, and a grandiose score, of course!
Pippin is playing at the Music Box Theatre, 239 W. 45th St. For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or click here.
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