Breathtaking Chutzpah: PIPPIN

Photo: Michael Lutch; a tender balancing act.

Photo: Michael Lutch; a tender balancing act.

book Roger O. Hirson
music and lyrics Stephen Schwartz
directed by Diane Paulus
circus creation Gypsy Snider of Les 7 Doigts de la Main
choreography by Chet Walker in the style of Bob Fosse

presented by American Repertory Theatre
Loeb Drama Center
64 Brattle St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
December 5, 2012 to January 20, 2013
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Review by Kitty Drexel

(Cambridge) This Cirque du Soleil meets Fosse production of “Pippin” tells the tale of the Everyman, a youthful personification of any adult tentatively beginning the journey toward self-knowledge. Our young hero seeks the meaning of life in all the wrong places: violence, sex, politics, and other follies of inexperience. What the audience soon realizes is that Pippin, son of Charlemagne (the Emperor who not only made Christianity famous but mandatory), for all his proclamations, isn’t special. He is on the same journey that all young adults travel in their search for self – plus or minus some fantastical hardships and an orgy or two. What our hero discovers on this epic ego-trip is that, after he finds and secures a lasting relationship with meaning, he doesn’t know what to do with it.

This coming of age delight by Hirson and Schwartz is loosely based on the real-life son of Emperor Charles, King of the Franks (742-814 ACE). His charming name was Pepin the Hunchback. The character details of Charlemagne within the musical’s context remain fairly faithful to history. Not much is known about Pepin the Hunchback. I’m going to argue that the character Pippin was largely fabricated for our entertainment because hunchbacks aren’t usually heroes (They can be if they put their mind to it but I don’t get to write the musicals). Besides, the fetching Matthew James Thomas (title character) has a lovely back to match his equally as lovely voice and abs. There is no need to cover it up.

The A.R.T.’s production should be attended. If one has conflicts, it is highly suggested that one unconflict them. The performances from the cast occupying the named roles are fierce. Patina Miller as the Leading Player has a belt so strong that one could drive a MAC truck through it.  She, like her fellow cast members, can dance, sing, act all evening and still have enough chutzpah left over to then do it all again backwards. If they did, it would be just as amazing as the forward moving production.

Photo: Michael J. Lutch — with Olga Karmansky, Greg Arsenal, Andrea Martin and Michael Lutch

Photo: Michael J. Lutch; they can do amazing things with their balls.

The Players are composed of tumblers, acrobats, magicians, hoopers, aerialists, knife throwers, and contortionists. They deliver Chet Walker’s choreography influenced by Fosse with aplomb. The circus creation by Gypsy Snider of Les 7 Doigts de la Main is breathtaking. With all due and much deserved respect to the leads, The Players boast the real draw to this production. The shock and awe that they deliver to the stage is of legendary proportions. Their mostly unspoken performances are just as nuanced and rich as those with lines. They are amazing.

For all the appeal that this musical might have to a family looking for a fun night out, it is NOT a family show. Unless one considers Fratricide, a Grace Jones-esque cage-orgy, and incest family-friendly topics. Then by all means, bring the kids. Please do. Otherwise, consenting adults with a hankering for sexy jokes with or without innuendo will enjoy themselves immensely.

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