Heading into the thrilling touring production of Pippin last night at the Cadillac Palace, I knew only that this was an early Stephen Schwartz musical, with a recent Broadway revival featuring some Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatics. But what I didn’t know was how full of surprise this layered theater piece would be, as it tells a universal story: the journey of a young man (Pippin, the son of Charlemagne) coming of age.
The son of a king, Pippin may be extraordinary, but his starts and stops, his trials and revisions, feel familiar. Don’t we all want to create a meaningful life, even if all we’re offered seems contrary to it? Pippin cycles through war, sex and revolution on his journey to discover that the most meaningful life might be the most ordinary.
Still, the journey matters. It’s great fun to watch him flounder, as the cast performing his journey (the play within the play here is much of the fun) has a serious investment in his extraordinary life. The musical seems to suggest that much of the artifice built around political and social structures is, ultimately, distraction, and there will always be another young person embarking on her own journey, with her own accompanying circus. The Leading Player (an alternately charming and malevolent Sasha Allen) is banking on it. I was surprised, too, by the dark turn in the story, reminding us there is always a price to pay for our entertainment.
The stylistic reach of the show, with its stunning Fosse choreography and an exuberant, cheeky tone, masks this seriousness. I was reminded of Cabaret, as well as A Chorus Line, two other musicals that reveal ways our investment in artifice and escapism is born of pain.
This touring production of the Broadway musical is at the Cadillac for just two weeks, featuring many of the original Broadway performers and others you might recognize: Sam Lips as Pippin and Sasha Allen of “The Voice” are powerhouses. Another standout is Adrienne Barbeau as Berthe, Pippin’s grandma; her rendition of “No Time at All” is a showstopper, offering some levity to Pippin’s angsty despair.
Cadillac Palace Theatre. Directed by Diane Paulus. With Sasha Allen, Kyle Selig, John Rubinstein, Sam Lips and Adrienne Barbeau. Running time: 2hrs 30mins; one intermission