It’s not often that Broadway royalty comes to town, but The Orpheum’s run of Pippin brings not only one of the kings of Broadway, but also a high-flying, high-energy show for the ages.
John Rubinstein, who originated the role of Pippin in 1972, is touring with the 2013 Tony Award winning revamped version of this popular show. He and the rest of the cast will be in Memphis through Sunday, November 22.
Rubinstein now plays King Charlemagne, father to young Pippin. Pippin is a prince in search of meaning for his life. A band of colorful circus performers lead him down many paths searching for that one elusive act that will make him extraordinary.
The high action acrobatics are reminiscent of Cirque De Solei (in fact, a number of the actors have appeared with the troupe) and truly awe-inspiring. The actors flawlessly flow from one-handed handstands, flipping through hoops, and even on to swinging one player as a jump rope.
Act One features a jaw-dropping scene with Berthe, Pippins grandmother played by Adrienne Barbeau (who is 70), hanging upside down from a trapeze held perilously high in the air while singing one of the more popular songs from the show, “No Time At All.” When Barbeau does make her way down from the swing, she leads the audience in a rousing sing-along. It's impressive.
The choreography is straight-up Fossey. Jazz hands and the famous Fossey walk are evident in each of the musical numbers. Bob Fossey directed the original 1972 version and is credited with making the story a little darker and a lot sexier.
Although children of all ages will enjoy the colorful acrobats and amazing strong men climbing on poles, the show is filled with sexually suggestive jokes and even a few scenes of sexual simulation. Parents may want to consider the appropriateness of the material and the maturity level of their child before bringing them to the show. My own 14-year-old daughter and her friend asked me explain a few of the off-color jokes.
Stage sizing and travel restrictions usually mean a scaled down version of a Broadway show on tour. Not in Memphis. The show is exactly as you would see it in New York. Nothing has been cut from the story or set.
In a preshow Q&A session, Rubinstein said the original version of Pippin was written partly as a protest to the Vietnam War. This new production has updated orchestrations and references to current events.
Rubinstein described Pippin's quest as “everybody’s story of trying to figure out what to do. This is our one shot at life, to make it worthwhile.”