“Pippin” at the Orpheum Theatre: Let’s Go to the Circus

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I liked “Pippin”.  But I didn’t like Pippin.

“Pippin” is the story of Pippin, a remarkably unremarkable young man in search of fulfillment.  The son of a king, he is surrounded by eccentric characters but possesses no remarkable traits of his own.  Undeterred by this, Pippin quests for purpose through different avenues–love, sex, rebellion, war, the arts, simple life, the list goes on.  Having experienced each, he pronounces himself unsatisfied and moves on to the next.  I found the character of Pippin ungrateful and immature and, in an echo of far too many other stories I have witnessed, I thought that the plot of “Pippin” would progress like this: Pippin, an extremely affluent (and, in this production, white) male sitting in the lap of ultimate luxury, searches for “purpose”.  The entire cast of characters works to help him find this “purpose”.  He finds it, sings about it, takes all the credit for having it, and is happy.  The end.  I am very happy to report that the show outsmarted me–the aforewritten is what I was supposed to think.  The end in fact holds a twist that strips away your senses and turns the whole production inside-out.

This rendition of “Pippin” goes to the circus.  The curtain is plucked away and we are inside a big-top, projected upon with pleasing patterns of colourful stars. Throughout the show, the tent serves as a backdrop for a variety of loosely defined locations including what I interpreted as the bottom of the sea, a medieval land, a strip club, and a farm on the countryside.  Circus acts dazzle at every turn at a rate of near constancy; from the beginning, action takes every corner of the stage.  It’s a lot to absorb.  Singing, dancing, acrobatics, light changes, costume changes, magic tricks, comedy, drama, sudden death, all come together in an exciting cacophony–until the stage goes dark with a single spotlight, to highlight a single voice.

With the exception of Pippin (played by Sam Lips), who is not in any respect a weak singer, the voices are superb, as are the characterizations.  Sasha Allen, holding the two-time Tony award winning role of narrator and Leading Player, brings down the house multiple times per act.  The rhythm and moment is mesmerising.  It is complex yet uncomplicated, jazzy and filled with class. The lighting, set, and costumes are perfectly colour coordinated; on the whole, the show is very aesthetically pleasing.

Having spent the better part of “Pippin” trying to ignore the title character, the ending flipped me upside down.  In the vein of Fight Club, you don’t know everything until you’ve seen everything.   With so many formulaic stories available in the media, it is nice to be surprised.  “Pippin” holds an aura of magic and mystery.  It taught me about life while I sat awestruck, oblivious that I was learning.  I want to see it again if only to catch more of the intricate detail.  You should go see it, too.  After all, when’s the last time you went to the circus?