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Theater review: 'Pippin,' Broadway touring show

Matthew J. Palm
Contact ReporterOrlando Sentinel Theater Critic
Theater review of “Pippin,” at the Dr. Phillips Center this week:

Maybe it says something about our culture that some 40 years after its Broadway debut, "Pippin" sounds so much angrier and louder.

The current revival of the Stephen Schwartz musical took home four 2013 Tony Awards, including one for director Diane Paulus who re-envisioned the coming-of-age tale with a circus motif. With the circus comes spectacle, and this "Pippin" is a doozy: Aerial-silk artists, hand balancers, fire jugglers, tumblers and contortionists work the stage. When the actors sing, "We've got magic for you," they mean it. Levitation and a talking disembodied head are among the tricks.

But amid the razzle dazzle, does the message of "Pippin" come through? Well, yes and no. "Pippin" is hampered by another cultural change: It comes from a time when musicals weren't adapted from cartoons or cult movies; they were about something. Behind all the artifice, "Pippin" is about something real: growing up.

As the musical opens, the Leading Player leads her circus troupe in performing a story about Charlemagne's son, Pippin. (Charlemagne was the early medieval king, later Holy Roman Emperor, who united Western Europe. Forty years ago, theater expected you to know your history, too.)

Pippin needs to find his place in the world, his "Corner of the Sky" as his signature song goes. He's convinced his life won't have meaning unless he does something extraordinary. But the details of Pippin's adventures matter less than their metaphorical value. These are the stages of a young man's development — a thirst for glory, sexual experimentation, the realization that a father isn't perfect, rebellion and eventually understanding.

The performers give this pop psychology its punch. Adrienne Barbeau is particularly fun as Pippin's good-natured grandma, the high-flying role that won Andrea Martin a Tony. John Rubinstein, who played the title role in the original Broadway production, is now a jovial Charlemagne.

Sam Lips gives earnest Pippin a dash of boyish spirit. Though he had a strong "Corner of the Sky" opening night, his falsetto wobbled later. Sasha Allen's Leading Player has a steely streak, though she's not as cold as Patina Miller's Tony-winning Broadway turn. She has a pop star's diction, too, which means some of Schwartz's clever lyrics are lost.

In the end, "Pippin" celebrates those who find personal fulfillment in the ordinariness of life, those who give love and accept love in return.

'Pippin'

What: Touring Broadway show

Length: 2:40, including intermission

Where: Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, 445 S. Magnolia Ave., Orlando

When: 8 p.m. through Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday

Cost: $33.75 and up

Call: 844-513-2014

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