by Malcolm Gay
Rolling into the Peabody Opera House, the touring production of Pippin is a show that seeks to delight on every front, delivering a lush sensory experience where song, story, costume and choreography compete for attention. The rollicking tuner, whose Broadway incarnation won last year's Tony Award for "Best Revival of a Musical," can be almost overwhelming at times with the sheer amount of action that unfolds onstage.
As one character sings, another is performing, oh, a twisted one-armed handstand, planking horizontally from a 30-foot high pole or being whipped in a circle like a human jump rope. Should you concentrate on the performers dressed as pigs, or would your attention be better spent watching the chickens? When a corpse levitates and then disappears into thin air, are we really supposed to be listening to dialogue? For that matter, what did the Visigoth's head say after it was divorced from its body in battle?
So I exaggerate, but this production of Pippin, directed by Diane Paulus, is a maximalist show if ever there was one, the theatrical love child of Cabaret and Cirque du Soleil. Of course, like any hybrid, Pippin does have its compromises. With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, the show doesn't contain many memorable songs, and some of the best of them are upstaged by Chet Walker's choreography and Gypsy Snider's circus creation.
With a book by Roger O. Hirson, the show tells the story of the titular Pippin (a likable Kyle Dean Massey), a young prince who seeks a life of meaning and fulfillment. In the carnivalesque, ahistorical realm of his father, Charles (a terrific John Rubinstein), Pippin explores everything from battle and promiscuity, to art and religion. Guided by the Leading Player (Lisa Karlin, an understudy to Sasha Allen), Pippin remains unfulfilled in this surreal world, trying his hand at politics before finally meeting Catherine (Kristine Reese), a young widow, who, to the dismay of the Leading Player, begins to have real feelings for Pippin, eventually derailing the grand finale the Leading Player has planned for him. Guided by the Leading Player (Lisa Karlin, an understudy to Sasha Allen), Pippin remains unfulfilled in this surreal world. He tries his hand at politics before finally meeting Catherine (Kristine Reese), a young widow, who, to the dismay of the Leading Player, begins to have real feelings for Pippin -- feelings that eventually derail the Leading Player's Grand Finale.
With a standout performance by Lucie Arnaz (the daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz) as Pippin's grandmother, Berthe, the show boasts a a live orchestra and wildly talented cast of acrobats and gymnasts as the Players.
Brimming with light moments, the oft-produced Pippin has become a little tame over the years. But this production, with its fire and silks, circus-like set by Scott Pask and dreamy costumes by Dominique Lemieux, restores Pippin to the surreal and sexy extravagance its original creators intended.
Pippin Through December 14 at the Peabody Opera House, 1400 Market Street. Call 314-499-7676 or click here.