THEATER: “Pippin” @ Proctors, 5/26/15

May 27th, 2015, 3:00 pm by Greg

pippin1

Review by Greg Haymes

Montreal’s Cirque Eloize won’t be returning to Proctors this summer, so if you need a European circus fix, get thee to Proctors for “Pippin” this week, and enjoy the work of another Montreal-based circus ensemble, Les 7 Doigts de la Main.

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Balancing feats, trapeze, juggling, silks, acrobatics, hoops, bouncing balls, knife throwing and a wide assortment of other circus and illusionist skills figure prominently in director Diane Paulus’ sparkling, energetic, Tony Award-winning re-boot of the 1972 Stephen Schwartz/Roger O. Hirson musical.

It’s a dazzling, big-top extravaganza, but it’s got meat on the bones. The plot revolves around the identity crisis of the title character – heir to the throne of King Charlemagne, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire – who is “searching for something important and meaningful to do” with his life. Yes, it’s a very ’60s-’70s existential theme, but Paulus and costume designer Dominque Lemieux have dressed it up magnificently for the 21st century.

The national touring company production has gone through a surprising number of cast changes since it was announced by Proctors more than a year ago (and hit the road in September), including the lead characters of Pippin (Sam Lips) and more recently the Leading Player (Lisa Karlin), as well as the role of Pippin’s grandmother Berthe (the 69-year-old Adrienne Barbeau in a single-song performance of “No Time at All,” in which she sang the final lyrics while suspended upside down, dangling from a trapeze above the stage).

Kudos to the fearless Barbeau (yes, we knew she was tough when we saw her in the classic “Escape From New York,” but this was live, semi-death-defying stage stuff) and Karlin (who was strutting and sexy in a decidedly Bob Fosse sort of way). But Lips was something of a disappointment, not quite making sparks fly with love interest Catherine (Kristine Reese), who brought out the heart of the the show with the intimate, heart-felt “I Guess I’ll Miss the Man,” the best performance of the evening.

In the end, “Pippin” is a tale of the classic inner-soul tug of war between ambition and love. But as centered around Lips’ rather lackluster performance, at times the theme felt more like, How to Be Happy by Lowering Your Expectations and Giving Up On Your Dreams.

And truth be told, you may not walk out of the theater humming a song from “Pippin” – not even the show’s best-known song, “Corner of the Sky,” which shows up early on in the evening’s proceedings – but you’ll likely remember the fun, the glitz and the dazzle for days to come.

“Pippin” continues at Proctors in Schenectady through Sunday (May 24). Tickets are $20-$80.

SECOND OPINIONS
Steve Barnes’ review at The Times Union
Kim Gorham’s review at Did You Weekend?
Excerpt from Paul Lamar’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Ever go to a buffet where the only thing to eat is dessert? Sounds appealing. But by the time you’ve stuffed yourself on empty calories and come down from a sugar high, you’re hankering for a sub — something, well, substantial. ‘Pippin’ is a groaning board of desserts, and for the first act, it is worth the money you have to spend on a night out. Fill up on those colorful costumes; gorge on the acrobatics; smack your lips over the dancing; savor the stage effects; and tickle your belly with sugary pop ’70s tunes (music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz). But Act II. Except for the funny performance of Kristine Reese as Catherine, it’s more of the same, and you begin to look around for that sandwich.”

The cast of Pippin

The cast of Pippin (photo: Terry Shapira)

Sam Lips as Pippin  (photo: Martha Rial)

Sam Lips as Pippin (photo: Martha Rial)

Adrienne Barbeau as Berthe (photo: Sara Hanna Photography)

Adrienne Barbeau as Berthe (photo: Sara Hanna Photography)