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Bob Goepfert Reviews "Pippin" At Proctors

In today’s world of entertainment the big thing is the cirque shows where young, muscular people perform acts of amazing strength, balance and dexterity.  Usually the separate numbers are linked with a pretentious theme.

“Pippin” paying at Proctors in Schenectady through Sunday is the best Cirque show on the market.   It dazzling and filled with talented performers. Too, the pretentious theme of a young boy coming of age is well- served by the glitzy production.

The only problem is the show playing at Proctors  is a revival of the musical that won a Tony-Award as Best Play in 1972.     As theater it is less satisfying. 

The problems are not the fault of Diane Paulus, the director who sets the play in the middle of a circus.   The added spectacle is entertaining and often exciting.  However, it’s like your second or third experience at a cirque performance when you realize that there is not much under the surface of the event.

The touring production of Pippin,” is not so much a triumph of style over substance – it  is style hiding the fact there is little substance to begin with.

“Pippin” is a nice gentle musical that even when it opened in 1972 felt dated.  It is a story about a youth who is trying to find something in life that is meaningful.  His quest takes him through war, politics, hedonism and rebellion. Eventually he learns peace and contentment through the love of a good woman and her son.

An unintended consequence of a dazzling first act which is heavy in circus is that it is so exciting that it works against the moral of the play. When in the second act when Pippin finds the joy in a simple life of family and farm work the play - and the audience - misses the excitement of a wanton life filled with glamorous and exciting temptations.  In other words when “Pippin” returns to its theatrical roots, it becomes dull.

Another unintended consequence is that the two most authentic performances are turned by the oldest characters in the play.  Rather than “Pippin” being a play about young people finding themselves it becomes a work that says the individual doesn’t have to let age define them.  What a truly revolutionary thought to posit that older is better

It’s certainly true of Adrianne Barbeau who plays Pippin’s grandmother Berthe.   Dating back to Irene Ryan who created the role Berthe historically steals the show.   The still beautiful Barbeau, who turns 70 in two weeks, carries on the tradition.  Her performance on a trapeze bar defines the modern attitude that declares aging is a state of mind.

John Rubinstein who created the role of Pippin on Broadway, plays Pippin’s father Charles.   He too is pushing 70 and brings charm and a sense of virility to the role that makes him seem ageless.

It’s not that the younger cast members are slouches.  The energy put out on stage makes you wonder how the company handles the two show days. 

Sam Lips is an charming Pippin.  Though less innocent than was Rubinstein’s original interpretation he is still endearing and his contemporary approach is more in keeping with the tone of the production.   

Sabrina Harper is a sexy, scheming Fastrada who gives credibility to Charles musing “If the fornicating I’m getting is worth the fornication I’m getting.”  Harper also stops the show with “Spread a Little Sunshine” in act two.

Lisa Karlin has just joined the company in the role of Leading Player.  She has not yet settled into the role and lacks the charisma and mystery that should make her as intriguing and she is dominant.

But this “Pippin” is not about subtleties.  It’s a show that is all about entertaining and – for the most part – it does that well.

Pippin” at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady through Sunday.      346-6204

Bob Goepfert is the arts editor for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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