“What just happened?” was the thought that first crossed my mind when Pippin concluded. Easily one of the most complex and confusing shows I have ever seen, Pippin truly left me wondering what was going on when the lights went down for the last time. Complex and confusing are not inherently bad traits, however, and Pippin was a very enjoyable, and very stunning show. The show follows the story of Pippin, son of Charlemagne, as he searches for true happiness. This story is told by a circus troupe, with the leading player at the helm. Here is where Pippin’s complexity comes into play. If the story is told by an acting troupe isn’t the person playing Pippin an actor, and therefore is the story about Pippin or about a play about Pippin within a circus. This Inception-like play within a play left me, a person not too fond of allegory and metaphor and very fond of full circle, neatly tied up endings, looking for explanations.
Despite the complex plot of Pippin, the show was truly incredible, and the most unique musical I have ever seen. Full of tremendous acrobatic displays, magic, illusions, feats of balance, and humor, Pippin is quite entertaining. Highlights of the circus aspect of the show included a box through which three people entered and exited throughout the scene, a cart pushed by legs accompanied by no body, and innumerable jumps through hoops, over balls, many balance acts, and other famous circus attractions such as the silks and the trapeze.
The talent in Pippin were all standout performers. No actor in the show gave a remotely sub-par performance, and even all of the actors that would generally be considered “ensemble members” were each given their own chance to shine as the center of an acrobatic spectacle, all of them performed flawlessly. The standout performances of the night were Sam Lips as the title character Pippin. He has an excellent voice, great acting skills, and his renditions of “Corner of the Sky” and “Morning Glow” were ones to remember. The actress who portrayed Bertha, Priscilla Lopez gave a great rendition of “No Time At All” while simultaneously performing an elaborate trapeze routine, assisted by one of the show’s main acrobats, Nicholas Jelmoni.
The second act of the show, when Pippin finally finds his love, Catherine, is lackluster compared to the impressive and energized first act. The act contains far fewer songs, and all the songs contained mushed together, all of them yawn worthy love songs. The second act was also when the show took a turn to confusion. The most unique aspect of the show was the disassembling of the entire set towards the end, exposing the actual back wall of the Orpheum stage. I hadn’t even conceived of a production taking down its entire set while the show was going on and this added to the overall uniqueness of the show.
It’s no wonder that the 2013 revival of Pippin received the Tony award for the best revival of a musical. This show is truly like no other. No other production that I’ve seen or heard of mixes circus acts with an intriguing yet complex story, along with good songs and a star filled cast quite the way Pippin does. For an entertaining and mind boggling time at the circus/ theater, Pippin is the latest on my list of recommendations.
*Peregrin Took is the full name of the hobbit who more commonly goes by the nickname “Pippin” in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings