There was certainly magic to do when Diane Paulus' revival of 'Pippin' burst onto the scene at the American Repertory Theatre. Transferring to Broadway, this high concept production took home the Tony Award for Best Revival, as well as a performance award for original Leading Player Patina Miller.
Over a year later, the show still retains much of the original magic, but thanks to some recent cast changes, fails to soar as highly as it once did.
Stephen Schwartz's 1972 musical has always been a difficult nut to crack. Part allegory, part extended metaphor, many find holes in the book due to its non traditional form which can only ever be as good as the overarching concept given to it. Despite the often catchy score that includes standards such as "Corner of the Sky" and "Magic to Do", there are few moments of musical brilliance, but the new orchestrations and arrangements make the most out of what they're working with which results in moments of musical bliss.
Paulus sets the show within a circus ring, with the now female Leading Player acting as a master of ceremonies-come-ringmaster, steering Pippin through his follies and voyage of self discovery. The show then becomes underpinned wholly by the concept, which is fully realised and thoroughly effective, giving visual delight to otherwise flat musical moments.
The ensemble cast is flawless in its delivery, providing actual jaw dropping moments of acrobatics, contortion and circus skill. Carly Hughes' commanding vocals and impressive delivery keep the narrative up in the air, multi-tasking continually with absolute ease and charm. There is sufficient support from Charlotte D'Amboise as the wicked Fastrada, as always giving a masterclass on how to deliver a mid-number dance break with ease.
However The Voice winner Josh Kaufman in the title role is less convincing. He looks out of place amongst the ensemble, mastering perhaps the confusion in Pippin's life but does little to gather sympathy or at the very least engagement in his story which is vital for the thin plot to matter. Whilst given the bulk of the more memorable musical numbers he doesn't deliver them with confidence. If my chair wasn't rooted to the spot, I'd be pressing my button to turn it back the other way.
Despite the new concept, the charm of Fosse's original remains throughout, most notably in the 'Manson Trio' which firmly nods to the original production. Thanks to the breath-taking work of Gypsy Snider and 'Les 7 Doigts de la main' this is a well justified revival of an extremely important show in the history of modern theatre.
"Often fun (with an exclamation point), but it’s almost never stirring."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"Everything you could dream of in a musical."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"A sensational revival."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Beautifully buoyant, intoxicatingly sensual revival."
Erik Haagensen for Back Stage
"A model of what a revival should be."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"This eye-popping, jaw-dropping extravaganza is the thrill of the season."
David Cote for Time Out New York
"At times seems more distracting than diverting."
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey
"If all this creativity is in the service of a problematic musical, it’s still a wonder to behold."
David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter
External links to full reviews from popular press...