"Pippin" is a weird show. Let's just get that out right off the bat. Honestly, when I was IN it I had no idea what was happening. The show follows the post-academic trials and tribulations of the main character, Pippin (played by the adorable Matthew James Thomas), as he tries to find fulfillment upon entering the real world. That's totally the shared human experience in the first world, right? Well, Pippin is also the son and heir of King Charlemagne. Yeah, it's like the Middle Ages and these two characters are based on real people (at least in name). But historical accuracy is thankfully tossed aside. Our hero is led by the Leading Player (Tony-winner Patina Miller all Fosseed up) of a troupe through various shenanigans, both trifling and tragic, in his quest for happiness.
As Pippin's hilariously inappropriate grandmother Berthe, Tovah Feldshuh gets tons of laughs, gasps, and people to sing along with her. I saw one of her first performances after taking over the role from Andrea Martin. She was wonderful, but I can't help regretting that I didn't see the much more vivacious comic Martin in her Tony-winning turn. Though Berthe's onstage time is short, it's an incredibly physically demanding role (in this high-flying production), especially for an older person, so Martin's short stint is understood. And Feldshuh's take is very impressive, especially her trapeze skills. You won't believe what she is capable of at age 63, and it will probably make you feel bad about your inferior biceps.
Well, I also want to see it again in large part because of the acrobatics. They are ASTOUNDING. Coming to Broadway mostly from the French acrobatic troupe Les 7 Doigts De La Main, the acrobats in the ensemble are constantly performing the most incredible gymnastic acts left and right that will leave you breathless. I gasped several times, and the woman next to me often exclaimed "No!! Ahh!!" as she watched them do what human bodies should not be able to do. They are truly magical.
Speaking of magic, there's a reason the opening number is called "Magic To Do". Crazy illusions (not tricks; tricks are something whores do for money) pepper the entire show, from two-second costume changes to a magic box that several characters somehow emerge from to an Act I wonder involving Charlemagne's body that I still cannot stop wondering about. How on earth did they accomplish these feats?!
"Pippin" in its current incarnation is one of the most magical productions I've ever seen (and I've seen everything). The excellent score by Stephen Schwartz is sung to perfection. I only had a few issues with this show. Firstly, in the chorus of "Glory", the ensemble sings "Shout it out, from the highest tower, shout it out, in the darkest hour"...but they whisper it most of the time! It's like reading the word of a color in a different color. Like YELLOW. See? It messes with your mind! Shout it out! Also, for some reason "War is a Science", Charlemagne's big number, wasn't as much fun as it should have been. Despite the increasingly fast pace (to the point where it's so fast you can't understand the words), it didn't feel nearly as boisterous as it should have.
Honestly, those are the only gripes I had with this production. It was incredible, and if you have the chance to see it, SEE IT. And take me, because I need to see it as many times as possible. It's that good.