Muscles abound in the new revival of the 1972 show Pippin at the The Music Box Theater. For the price of one ticket, Tony-winning director Diane Paulus (Hair) gives the audience both a vibrant musical and a thrilling circus with incredible athletes. Sometimes there’s so much activity: gymnastics, trapeze, high wire action, twists and tumbling that the audience doesn’t know where to look.
The show is actually a play within a play led by Leading Player (Patina Miller) and her cast. It tells the story of young Pippin, the eldest son of King Charlemagne. Having finished school, the naive young man is ready to do something important in the world. Played by an appealing Mathew James Thomas, Pippin begins to experiment. Patina Miller, who delighted people in Sister Act, is marvelous as Leading Player, the role made famous by Ben Vereen. Miller is a terrific and powerful singer and a lithe dancer. She even shows her acting ability when she gets angry with a player who ‘gets out of character,’ messing up the story. First Pippin becomes a soldier, a lover, and then the king. Like the old Peggy Lee song, he wonders if that’s all there is. Finally he finds contentment with a widow and her son; the most satisfying life is a simple life.
The talented Terrence Mann plays King Charles and Charlotte D’Ambois, Mann’s real-life wife, is Fastrada in the all-around terrific cast. In a small but wonderful role, Andrea Martin plays Berthe, Pippin’s grandmother. The audience adores Martin, especially when she instructs it to sing along with her. The 66 year old performer even mounts the trapeze with one of the acrobats. She sings as she swings, delighting us all. It’s a wonderful comic number and it’s a role that may win Martin another Tony award. Based on his grandmother’s advice, Pippin takes off to for a series of meaningless sexual encounters.