I have a confession. I have sinned against Dionysius and Stephen Schwartz. I openly and loudly sang during the performance of Pippin. I loudly and joyfully applauded during musical performances and hooted and hollered between numbers. Once was a mistake, twice was a choice. When Adrienne Barbeau said “Sing along” I listened. I followed her directions to a “T”…after all, I am a trained professional. What makes my sin even more grievous is that I know what it feels like to be on stage, in the moment, only to be stopped by rude or obnoxious audience members. As such, I vowed at the age of 8 to NEVER be that person.
In an effort to be the ideal theatre patron I have developed a bit of a ritual that I stick to when attending a show:
- First, I conduct research of the show before I go to see it. I try to know, at least, a synopsis of the show before the curtain opens.
- Second, I am in my seat promptly when the house opens and I have consumed the amazing, mouthwatering, probably really bad for me, cashews before the house lights dim. I sit quietly and with an open mind waiting for first measure of music to fill my soul.
- Finally, I quietly, and inwardly, applaud the musical numbers so as not to break the momentum of action on stage. I laugh at the appropriate moments, and stand for the entire cast during the curtain call.
Last night was very different for me, because, damn it all to hell, I was forced out of my ritual while watching Pippin at DPAC!
After seeing this show, I am torn. I don’t know if I should be praising Stephen Schwartz as a musical genius or if I should be singing the praises of Diane Paulus for the revival and new concept for Pippin.
Director Diane Paulus’ revival of this modern classic has brought Pippin into the present time. She has successfully adapted the show to audiences that are more attracted to spectacle than they are with the plot and the subsequent meaning of the lines. She has created a world that allows characters to interact with audiences who, instead of witnessing the actions, become a part of it. Her new direction adds a combination of raw athleticism, musical talent and a dash of fascinating technology to the original choreography of the late Bob Fosse. Throw in some magic for good measure and you have the stunning staging of Pippin.
Even though the show is written in such a way that modern amenities are available, the storyline of this brilliant musical takes places during the Carolingian Renaissance,
Picture this; the stage is engulfed in an epic battle scene between the Catholic Army of Charlemagne and a group of Non-Believers. Instead of violence of sword and shield this fight is contested through acrobatic feats and other daring moves using hoops large and balls as large as a person. Teams of acrobats were climbing up a red pole that was symbolic of soldiers being cornered. Those same acrobats would perform a maneuver that saw them sliding down the pole at full speed only to stop themselves inches from the ground. The maneuver left the audience loudly gasping and in awe. Once the battle is over, we are left with a distraught Pippin and the illusion of a talking man whose head has been magically separated from the rest of his body.
Kyle Dean Massey plays the title role of Pippin and will not disappoint you in his performance. Every note, laugh, smile, dance move, and breath he takes draws an audience into his internal struggle between good and the perception of evil.
The Leading Player was portrayed by the understudy of the regular owner of the role Sasha Allen, who was out due to injury, Lisa Karlin stepped in and played the role for the DPAC audience. I will admit I was a bit disappointed in learning that I wouldn’t see the originally cast Lead Player. But, holy flying acrobats, Lisa Karlin was AMAZING. If she was that amazing, it makes me wonder if Sasha Allen is as commanding of the stage or was she merely brought in for the namesake. With every line delivery, movement, and song Lisa Karlin takes over the entire stage, demanding the audience to watch every magical move she makes.
Stephen Schwartz has created a masterpiece that literally and figuratively supports the idea that theatre is merely a memory. It is there for the moment, but must move on, leaving us with only the emotions that we felt during the performance. In this day and age we can go onto Google or YouTube and watch the videos of the performances, but that will never replace the joy and raw emotions that are felt “in the moment.”
Schwartz has helped to teach me, with Pippin, that theatre can be an alternative to life. It can serve to blanket us from the unwanted. It allows us to leave our lives of anger, frustration, sadness, and disappointment behind as we travel to a place where none of those things matter. If only for a few hours, the world that exists in our imaginations can be allowed to take place before our eyes…on stage.