Saturday, 9 November 2013

Pippin, Music Box, Broadway

Broadway is Big. Really big. How big? Well, there are 40 theatres which are formally called "Broadway" theatres, most of which have stuff running 12 months of the year. That's not to ignore a massive number of off and off-off-broadway theatres also spreading across New York City, also incredibly active in their product.

Anyway, point being, there's a lot of theatre. And, given this is the height of commercial theatre, the tickets are bloody expensive and the theatres usually somewhat overstuffed with people crammed into overly-tiny seats, how good is it, really?

In the case of "Pippin", pretty darn good. "Pippin" is a fairly seventies show on that most seventies of subjects, a young man trying to find himself. In this case, he's the son of the medieval king Charlemagne, though in some ways this becomes increasingly irrelevant to the plot - the show largely consists of Pippin trying various life options and finding them unsatisfactory (war, sex, politics and finally, ordinary domestic life). It's a rare show where the main character can become king of France and it ultimately doesn't matter to the outcome of the story - arguably you could show up for the last forty-five minutes or so and not have missed anything particularly substantial, except for everything else about the storytelling and presentation (which is, of course, substantial). Pippin's guide through these adventures are a team of players -  in this production, quite an acrobatically-capable team, who spin, tumble, and divert through Pippin's meandering adventures.

In the title role, Matthew James Thomas is a sweet-natured hero, not exactly a naive idiot but certainly not entirely worldly wise. He sings the big ballad "Corner of the Sky" with conviction. There's also a nice sense that he's being led by the show rather than leading it - his involvement in the choreography, for instance, has a fun sense of "learning the steps" (which, six months into the run, obviously he isn't). He also onstage has a blonde head of hair which makes hims startlingly resemble Lachlan Ruffy. There's a basic part of the premise that everyone else in the show has been performing it for ages, but Pippin is brand new. And to his credit, Thomas makes that believable. He's fresh, funny and charming.

For our performance, the role of "Leading Player" (narrator, chief tempter of Pippin, and ring-master) was played by the understudy, Gabrielle McClinton. You wouldn't know - she sings, dances and tempts skillfully. She's also nicely petulant when the show doesn't run completely according to plan as Pippin and other performers make choices outside her control.

Most notable of these misbehaving performers is Rachel Bay Jones, who pays Catherine (Pippin's partner in "ordinary life"), whose sweet simplicity is utterly disarming - she's daffy, charming and kinda heart-breaking.

The entire production is a marvel of invention (the staging of "Simple Joys" with variations on large exercise balls is particuarly delightful), and brings glee and a fair bit of spectacle to a story of frustrated ambitions and learning to accept your place in the universe. A perfect start to a run of shows on-and-off Broadway.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I totally agree about the Ruffy-resemblence but was afraid it might just be me who saw it. And how remarkable was Tovah Feldshuh as Berthe!
    Also, for the Pippin sceptics out there (I was one of them) - this is NOT the unFossefied version which is the only one available to amateur theatre companies. This is a much darker, richer story. I found this analysis by Scott Miller a brilliant guide.