Theater Review: Revival of ‘Pippin’ Still Has Magic to Do

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CHICAGO – It is the simple, timeless stories that work best when they are mounted again on Broadway, and the musical “Pippin” stays true to that assertion. Taking the concepts and the songs from a play that debuted in 1972, and featuring one of those original cast members in a key role, the National Touring revival of “Pippin” is being performed in Chicago at the Cadillac Theatre until August 9th, 2015. Comedy/Tragedy Rating: 4.0/5.0
Play Rating: 4.0/5.0

The revival expands upon the scope of Pippin, the title character, by setting his musically narrated tale within a circus setting, where the various performers act out his journey. The bright, splashy atmosphere melded perfectly with the great music and lyrics of the legendary Stephen Schwartz, and the ensemble – including a welcome and surprising Adrienne Barbeau – brought a soulfulness to themes of love, war, royalty and the ordinary life. It all comes magically alive on a stage full of tricks, sunshiny characters and poignant meditations.

Sam Lips as ‘Pippin,’ at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago through August 9th, 2015
Photo credit: Martha Rial

The musical is narrated by the Leading Player (Sasha Allen), the story of the boy prince Pippin (Sam LIps), the son of King Charles (John Rubinstein), who has just returned from academic study. He is a restless soul, pining to find his “Corner of the Sky.” Through a series of trials – including war, the wearing of the crown and a love connection – Pippin gains knowledge along the way, including from his grandmother Berthe (Adrienne Barbeau). Will he be content with the Ordinary Life, or will he need something “Extraordinary”?

Much of the cast is direct from Broadway, and includes John Rubinstein as the King, who originated the role of Pippin back in 1972. The original production was directed and choreographed by the iconic Chicagoan Bob Fosse, and retains a bit of the master’s wit and sarcasm. This production is bigger and more of a spectacle, but does well with its circus theme, and although the performers all are cognizant that they are putting on a morality tale, they take time to swing from the flying trapeze, play with fire and do various circus-like contortions – including an homage to the original cover art for the “Pippin” soundtrack of 1972.

The veteran performances are strongest, with Rubinstein relishing his King Charles role. Adrienne Barbeau as Berthe (which in the original production was portrayed by Irene “Granny” Ryan) is a revelation, and she absolutely steals the stage while singing the standard “No Time at All.” Sam Lips took awhile to warm into his Pippin skin, but once it clicked it was energetic and substantial, especially in the song “Extraordinary.” The Stephen Schwartz songs continue to also shine, including “Magic to Do,” “Corner of the Sky,” “Glory” and “Love Song.”

Adrienne Barbeau as Berthe in ’Pippin’
Photo credit: Sara Hanna

There were some adjustments in this new version, and the status of Bob Fosse’s “Manson Trio” dancers during the “Glory” tune had less impact. And although the pacing of the second act was off on opening night, the excellent troupe of actors and circus folk eventually tied up the loose ends, and kept the passion flowing along Pippin’s erratic path – which proves there is power in simple joy.

It’s all about the search for purpose that is rendered in the powerful song “Corner of the Sky,” the discovery of which plays out in various themes and life experiences for Pippin. As the song expresses “everything has its season, everything has its time,” it is also a reminder that the game is never over, even when you think it might be.

”Pippin” runs through August 9th, 2015, at The Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 West Randolph Street in Chicago – Sunday, Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30pm and Saturday at 8pm, with matinees at 2pm on Saturday and Sunday. Featuring Sasha Allen, John Rubinstein, Adrienne Barbeau and Sam Lips. Book by Roger O. Hirson. Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Directed by Diane Paulus. Click here to purchase tickets and for more information. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Editorial Coordinator, Writer

© 2015 Patrick McDonald,

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