Exhilarating acrobatics and fantastic choreography catapults the outstanding national tour of “Pippin” to marvelously magical heights at the Schuster Center as the launch of the Victoria Theatre Association’s 2015-2016 Premier Health Broadway Series.
Based on its 2013 Tony Award-winning Broadway revival and originally staged and choreographed by the legendary Bob Fosse in 1972, “Pippin,” featuring a book by Roger O. Hirson and score by Stephen Schwartz, tells a humorous and fanciful tale of the titular son of Charlemagne. Following college graduation he boldly pursues a quest for absolute fulfillment. However, his complicated yet committed soul-searching gets the best of him as he battles war, the flesh, revolution, politics, and domestication. Even so, he’s faithfully guided by the captivating and mysterious Leading Player fervently reminding him of his purpose while keeping the audience amused and occasionally diverted with sardonic glee.
Hirson’s cynical edge (which Fosse would effectively use as a model three years later when co-writing the libretto for “Chicago” with Fred Ebb) and Schwartz’s radiant score have always been a strong match, but director Diane Paulus, who rightfully won the Tony for this staging, resurrects the material anew with a brilliantly inspired circus concept. Truly adhering to the enticing lyrics driving the groovy opening number “Magic to Do,” Paulus, with tremendous assistance from Montreal’s Les 7 doigts de la main troupe co-founded by Gypsy Snider, heightens the action with an assortment of thrilling, death-defying routines. Having cast members perform various acts of magic and athleticism not only speaks to the fun and danger of life in general but fittingly reflects the evolution of Pippin’s eye-opening journey as he simultaneously matures as a man and, particularly in the eyes of the audience, entertainer.
The uniformly terrific cast is blessed with first-rate principals. As the beguilingly suave Leading Player, Gabrielle McClinton, a knockout triple threat, crisply commands with intuitiveness, sass and ferocity, specifically filling “On the Right Track” with a soulful pop vibe. Amiable Brian Flores, freshly graduated from the University of Michigan, conveys a charmingly boyish sensibility in the titular role while bringing introspective joy to such songs as “Corner of the Sky,” “With You” and “Morning Glow.” John Rubenstein, the original Pippin and a Tony winner for “Children of a Lesser God,” effortlessly embodies the kooky Charles the Great (Charlemagne) with spirited humor and deftly imposing resonance. Priscilla Lopez, the original Diana in “A Chorus Line” and a Tony winner for “A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine,” absolutely enchants as Pippin’s delightfully earthy grandma Berthe in the “No Time at All” sequence spotlighting her fascinatingly flexible trapeze act. As Pippin’s conniving stepmother Fastrada, the elegant, statuesque Sabrina Harper dazzles in “Spread a Little Sunshine” complete with eye-popping costume changes resulting in a scintillating red dress and dance number recalling “The Music and the Mirror” from “A Chorus Line.” Handsome Erik Altemus enjoyably reprises his Broadway portrayal of Pippin’s vain, treacherous brother Lewis. The attractively earnest Bradley Benjamin warmly interprets the comical, sensitive widow Catherine, notably joining Flores late in Act 2 for a gorgeous, ‘70s folk-acoustic rendition of “Love Song.” Jake Berman humorously startles as Catherine’s persnickety son Theo.
In addition, Fosse’s choreography, specifically his iconic “Manson Trio” routine in the “Glory” sequence sparkling with the mesmerizing slinkiness of McClinton and two ensemble Players, is superbly authenticated in his definitive style by Tony nominee Chet Walker. The exemplary, Tony-nominated circus locale/design is courtesy of scenic designer Scott Pask, lighting designer Kenneth Posner, and costumer Dominique Lemieux. Musical director Ryan Cantwell leads a vibrant, top-notch orchestra.
From start to finish this “Pippin” excels to the hilt. Get your tickets!
“Pippin” continues through Oct. 11 at the Schuster Center, Second and Main Streets, Dayton. Performances are Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 pm, and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 pm. The production is performed in 2 hours and 35 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $25-$92. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com.