The Tony Award-winning revival of “Pippin” on tour at the Paramount Theatre is staged with pizazz by Diane Paulus.
Cross a nouvelle cirque extravaganza with a Bob Fosse show, and what do you get?
Something slinky and splashy staged by leading Broadway director Diane Paulus that puts a big coat of pizazz on an acerbic musical fable from the 1970s.
Paulus wins you over with her full-throttle production of “Pippin” in the first number of Stephen Schwartz’s melodic and playfully jazzy score.
Book by Roger O. Hirson, score by Stephen Schwartz. Through Sunday, Aug. 23, Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St., Seattle; Tickets from $25 (877-784-4849 or stgpresents.org).
It is led, in the national touring company now at the Paramount Theatre, by a sizzling, sinuous Gabrielle McClinton, who as the show’s Leading Player as our guide. With a toss of her head or flick of her wrist, she commands a multitalented ensemble of smashing dancer-acrobats who slither up poles, balance on their hands and cavort as farm animals, as they usher a questing young prince down a path of temptations.
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If you’ve seen and enjoyed other versions of “Pippin,” which director-choreographer Fosse molded into an innovative, offbeat one-act pageant that lasted nearly five years in its first Broadway run, you surely haven’t seen one like this.
The setting is a circus tent equipped for gymnasts. And nearly every musical number is coupled with a nimble ta-da acrobatic or aerial act. Even the title character’s 60-something grandmother Berthe, played with gusto by the still-svelte Broadway veteran Priscilla Lopez, gets in on the act, with a pretty awesome trapeze routine during her singalong anthem, “No Time at All.”
This 2013 revival cum makeover of “Pippin” still employs the show’s original book by Roger O. Hirson (which Fosse also had a hand in). It was inspired by an old burlesque version of the legend of Faust, with the medieval emperor Charlemagne’s fairly clueless son Pippin (the winning newcomer Brian Flores) searching for fulfillment in all the wrong places.
In a riotous, comically macabre number (“Glory”), he tries to impress his lordly father (an antic turn by John Rubinstein, who played the original Pippin some 40 years ago), by plunging with sword aloft into a bloody “holy” war against infidels.
When the carnage gets to him, Pippin decides to change the world through governance, and usurps his father’s throne. When he screws up at trying to rule a country, McClinton’s seductive Mephistopheles tempts him with a libertine life of writhing, crimson-lit orgies. It would make even Don Juan blush — and make “Pippin” unsuitable for most small children, despite all the circus fun.
In that vein, the hoop-diving, human pyramids and other nifty displays of bravado have been staged with maximum aplomb by Gypsy Snider. And the elbows-akimbo, foot-arched, hip-thrusting, jazz-hands dancing throughout is very much in the manner of that brilliant showman Fosse, who died in 1987.
Choreographer Chet Walker was definitely the right guy for job: He not only danced in “Pippin” and other Fosse shows, but also staged the hit Broadway homage to his mentor, “Fosse!”
Schwartz’s score is beguiling and outfitted with catchy tunes and clever lyrics, though it does get a bit sappy near the end, when the hapless Pippin is taken in by a pretty single mom (Bradley Benjamin) and her cute little son. Pippin is then faced with two choices: settling down with a nice boring woman, or going down in flames — and guess which one he chooses?
The touring production looks grand, and much the show I saw on Broadway in 2013 when it earned a Tony Award for best revival of the season, and Paulus picked up a well-deserved Tony for her direction.
This “Pippin” isn’t as edgy or surprising as the more sulfuric original. And Brechtian musicals-within-musicals are no longer a new thing. But the show is so entertaining and zestfully performed, it’s marred only by the grating amplified sound scheme at the Paramount, which muddles and coarsens some of the singing.
Note: This article was corrected on Aug. 19, 2015. In an earlier version, actor John Rubinstein’s name was misspelled.