“Pippin” – Phoenix Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ March 10, 2014


Phoenix Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

I remember when I saw the original “Pippin” on Broadway in 1972.  The opening number splashed on stage with white gloved hands flashing magically on a dark stage entrancing the audience into the life of the musical’s lead, Pippin, King Charlemagne’s son, as he learned the harsh realities of life.  There was a stellar cast singing young Stephen Schwartz’ music and lyrics long before his bigger hit “Wicked” had premiered.  Bob Fosse’s seductively sexy choreography and slapdash direction hadn’t been seen much on the then much tamer Broadway stage.  “Pippin” moved musical theater in new and exciting ways.

Now, over 40 years later, the show hasn’t aged well.  Pippin’s life isn’t that interesting and musical theater staging has added more sparkle over the years.  What we learn by viewing the current Phoenix Theatre production is that “Pippin” isn’t a great show, the score is pleasant but undistinguished, and the show’s initial splash is now derigueur in many recent shows.  The only way “Pippin” can surprise and entertain today is with a stellar cast and in a dazzling production that is blessed with creativity, spirit, and has an energizing dynamic at its core.  Unfortunately, the local production fails on these requisite mandates.

The imported leads, Paul Oakley Stovall as the Leading Player and Anthony Johnson as Pippin, deliver mediocre performances that never gain the audiences’ attention.  Neither performer is bad but neither does anything unique with the two central roles.

The rest of the cast is filled with local actors.  Mike Lawler brings an evil grimace with comic overtones to King Charlemagne, Pippin’s overwrought father, Kathi Osborne is cute as grandmother Berthe, Jenny Hintze presents a sexually alluring Fastrada, and Trisha Hart Ditsworth is a loving Katherine, Pippin’s romantic partner.  Michael Barnard’s circus-themed staging, similar in style to the current Broadway revival, keeps the production zipping along but not so that audiences don’t notice the routine show that tries to cover mediocrity with swirling excitement.  The cartoonish unit set permits the continuous action but doesn’t look particularly interesting and the brazenly colored costumes bring the show visual splash.  Alan Ruch’s unseen orchestra executes the music with professional élan.

There’s some entertaining sparkle in Phoenix Theatre’s “Pippin” but the two leads pull the show down and the production lacks the necessary dynamic to gloss over the weak show.  This “Pippin” continues through March 30.  For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: C

2 Responses to ““Pippin” – Phoenix Theatre”

  1. Anne Till said:

    Mar 10, 14 at 21:48

    Captures my feelings exactly. I had a hard time staying awake

  2. Jordan Walker said:

    Mar 13, 14 at 15:58

    I COMPLETELY disagree with this review. Yes, the show is difficult to stage in 2014, and might not be as thrilling as it was in its original inception, but this production is far from disappointing. And the two leads are excellent and definitely not mediocre. Pippin at Phoenix Theatre is a must see.