“Pippin” – ASU Gammage

This review aired on KBAQ December 4, 2014


Broadway Across America – Arizona, ASU Gammage
Tempe, AZ

Broadway arrived at ASU Gammage on Tuesday when the national tour of the recent “Pippin” revival arrived in a marvelous production that artfully mimics the excitement the show displayed in New York.  It’s rare that a tour measures up to Broadway.  This marvelously creative production helmed by director Diane Paulus explodes all over the huge Gammage stage.

Tour casts usually parody Broadway stars and here the results are outstanding.  Sasha Allen jumps on stage to open the production as the Leading Player and, like Patina Miller in the Broadway revival, she takes command of the show and never lets her presence wane.

Before bestowing accolades on the exemplary touring cast and remarkable production, a few words about “Pippin,” a 1972 musical that Bob Fosse sparked to an exciting premiere.  It’s tells about Charlemagne’s favored son, the title character, and his struggles to become a man capable of leading his country as he tries to end the unjust autocratic aristocracy crafted by his biased and bigoted father.  Roger O. Hirson’s story is aided by Stephen Schwartz’s catchy score that inspires fascinating musical numbers and sexually provocative dances.

But director Paulus creates something refreshingly different than Fosse’s original and she’s aided by the circus-like scenic design, vibrantly splashy lighting, and a succession of brightly garish costumes that affectionately play with the actual historic period.  Some jazzy new orchestrations make the score soar more greatly than it did originally.  Choreographer Chet Walker crafts energetic new dances in the style of Fosse but with so much splashy panache.

The cast couldn’t be better starting with Allen’s sassy Leading Player who guides audiences through the story as she comments smartly on the shenanigans unfolding.  Kyle Dean Massey is a sincere Pippin who dances superbly and sings beautifully.  John Rubinstein, who played Pippin originally, turns the henpecked Charles into a clever man who blindly defers to his floozy wife Fastrada played with alluring sexiness by Sabrina Harper.  Pippin’s love interest, Catherine, is blithely played with mocking sincerity by Kristine Reese.  The production’s biggest surprise is Lucie Arnaz’s masterfully engaging performance as Pippin’s grandmother, Berthe.  Arnaz did a succession of unbelievable gymnastic contortions that were spellbinding and show-stopping and this from a 63 year-old masterful comedienne.

But the large ensemble’s essays the small roles with wonderful distinction.  The well-chiseled men and the volupously curvy women perform outstanding gymnastic feats as they display an athletic acumen and acrobatic fortitude rarely seen on Broadway.

The “Pippin” revival was a Broadway marvel and it plays at ASU Gammage through Sunday (December 7, 2014).  Don’t miss it.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster box office at 800-982-2787 or order tickets online at www.asugammage.com.

Grade: A