Pippin Is Back and on Its Way to Broadway Boston

Posted February 1, 2016 by Paul Fey in Theater & Arts
Pippin runs February 2nd through the 14th . Photo courtesy of Boston Broadway

A classic on Broadway in the 1970’s, Pippin is back as a Tony Winner for the Best Revival of a Musical. Revived, but not the same–the beloved home of classic musical pop-rock classics like “Magic to Do,” and “I Guess I’ll Miss the Man,” now features a circus setting with dazzling tricks, exciting acrobatics and an unwavering extraordinary energy. The circus, that is, Pippin, is setting up their tents at the Boston Opera House this February.

The show begins with Pippin as a discontented and overlooked prince, the son of King Charles, and follows him on his journey to lead an extraordinary life. He joins an anachronistic circus. Consequently, Pippin must prove himself through a series of challenging events. Meanwhile, each circus act reveals their own dreams and stories. In the end, there’s a war, broken hearts, and a reflection on how we find purpose in relation to our quest for significance versus our need for simpler pleasures. Can the aspirations of a rosy-eyed youth endure the realities of life intact? Should they?

While this thematic heart remains from Steven Schwartz’ 70’s hit, the revival is almost unrecognizable visually. The new circus concept, according to Schwartz, isn’t just there as an excuse for acrobatics and dazzling displays. “It’s also very appropriate for the young man who declares what he wants is to be extraordinary.” The death-defying nature of the circus makes this desire physical. That was the idea director Diane Paulson had and strove to capture in the revival’s new concept. Understandably, she has a reputation for shaking things up in the theater.

The results are equal parts musical and circus. There is singing from characters suspended in hoops high in the air, while the acts of physical prowess are performed in a way that invites the audience to engage on a more human level. Paulson enlisted the help of a circus creator, Gypsy Snider, and her troupe, Les 7 Doigts de le Main, known for engaging audiences in this way exactly.

Dear to the audience and revolutionary in its time, the stylings of Bob Fosse’s original choreography have remained an integral element in the revival. The genius of Fosse’s direction of steps in invoking emotion carries a similar energy into the latest iteration.

Also back from the original production is John Rubinstein. Rubinstein, who starred as Pippin in his first major role on Broadway, now returns 43 years later to play Pippin’s father. Also interesting, while the original featured Ben Vereen, Gabrielle McClinton now plays the role of the Leading Player. After a conversation with Schwartz regarding his lack of demographic constraints on the character, Paulson fell in love with the energy and the dynamic only a young female character could bring to the role. Brian Flores stars as Pippin, Sabrina Harper as Fastrada, and Bradley Benjamin as Catherine.

The goal of the circus concept, according to Paulson, is to invite the audience into an experience in which the fourth wall is destroyed and makes them feel alive. Schwartz described this goal’s realization as “something never done before.” The revolutionary and unforgettable experience that is Pippin arrives in spectacular fashion on February 2 for its opening night, and runs through the 14th.

Given its reputation for putting on the finest musicals, operas, and plays in Boston, the Boston Opera House is the fitting temporary home for Pippin on its national tour. For two weeks, the beautifully ornate theater at 539 Washington Street, just off the Commons, becomes a circus for your viewing and dramatic pleasure.