Last night I went to the theatre and saw what was rumored and spoken aloud of in alleyways(mostly the Shubert one)as the great show of the season, PIPPIN. As my friends know, I came back to this unrelentingly gray(as it was for an elongated winter) metropolis because I have lingering (and occasionally passionate) hopes of getting my musical, SYLVIA WHO? on. Because Pippin was purported to be so wonderful, I thought there might be no selfless exigency in mounting my (it really is) adorable tale, as there would be something already on the disappointing boards that justified the exorbitant price of tickets, to draw in young audiences besides the revival of ANNIE, BOOK OF MORMON, and the dark (and I hear, off-putting) MATILDA.
And as the curtain rose, or rather, the lights signaled wonder,there burst open upon the stage the most splendiferous of acrobatics, trapeze artistry, and eye-dazzling display of human pyrotechnics that I have seen this side of a circus, where it would be expected, though not to such a beautifully designed effect. Then the show began, with its tale of Charlemagne and his son, Pippin, the glamorous second wife who hatched shadowy thoughts of her own son taking over, etc. etc. And as events, or the curious lack of them, unfolded, my hopes rose and fell with the dangling artists, until, more than midway through Act I, an extraordinary performer, Andrew Martin, as Pippin's Grandma, part yenta(or Yentl) stopped the show dead, or more accurately, live in its tracks, bringing the audience into the palms of her very lively hands, and
more importantly, to its feet. Then, even more remarkably, she stripped away her middle-aged schmata and revealed an impressive body in sequined splendor and started swinging like a regular trapeze artist. Even my cynical escort who was quick to explain this wasn't "his kind of show," was impressed.
So I was happy for the spirit of Bob Fosse, whose production originally this was, and who, I imagined, would be hovering in the wings, since he probably now had them. I had encountered that great gentleman once in the flesh at Baskin-Robbins next to Dusty's beauty parlor in Beverly Hills, and without even thinking, fell to my knees, causing him to wave his hands and shyly say, "Oh, please." But we had a fine conversation, and some correspondence that followed, and I always revered him. So I was glad this Pippin was working.
And then came Act Two. I have to assume that if there is an Afterlife, which I hope there is for artists, so they can ameliorate what they have failed to make wondrous in Earth time, Fosse would have certainly worked on structure, since he had clearly already perfected movement. So he would have had to cut this act to shreds, since it did not slow the action, it obliterated it. Unnecessary farm scenes with pig-clad players at the trough and field hands, etc. working the farm, while Pippin's love(?) affair with a young widow unfolded, sort of, under a quilt, were uninteresting to the point of being deadly. Lost was the plot of the step-Queen, lobbying in the shadows for her son, momentarily redeemed somewhat by her gifted dancing-- not surprising as she is the daughter of Jacques D'Amboise and so of course can kick high. But Pippin's love interest, though sweet, was not electric enough to justify her time onstage, much less the loss of the plot. And not electric at all, though also sweet, was Matthew James Thomas as Pippin. Three names do not a transcending talent make.
Most of all I sorrowed for the dog, a little black puppy Pippin gives the widow's son to compensate for the death of his duck. As he bounded onto the stage, jumping, but not high enough, he missed the drum he was supposed to land on, and had to make a second try. AND WITH EVERYONE WATCHING! I could feel his mortification, so even though Pippin gave him his treat anyway, what humiliation there had to be in his heart as he went back to his trainer and what he has of friends, who, even if they hadn't seen, would have to know.