If Diane Paulus’ celebrated revival of “Pippin” proves anything, it’s the enduring mastery of Bob Fosse, who won Tonys for both his direction and choreography of the 1972 original.
Paulus’ 2013 production, which garnered four Tonys, is out on tour. It landed Tuesday at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis and is suffused with Fosse’s influence, especially in Chet Walker’s choreography, which is done “in the style of Bob Fosse.”
This is not to downplay Paulus’ directorial vision or artistry. This “Pippin” is lively and refreshed, with a great sense of play and old-fashioned showmanship. And it boasts commendable performances all around.
But those sexy dances, including a segment called “the Manson Trio,” and the jazz hands are signature expressions of Fosse’s genius. Those moves, executed with precision and a relaxed sense of play, also help to make the show a winner.
“Pippin” is a story of a young man’s search for meaning. Pippin (Sam Lips) tries education, but is unfulfilled by study. He tries war, joining his father, King Charles (John Rubinstein), and brother Lewis (Callan Bergmann) in a campaign against the Visigoths. (Charles wages relentless battles in the name of the Holy Roman Empire, converting or killing enemies along the way.)
But Pippin remains unsatisfied. He tries religion, art and revolution. Nothing gives him satisfaction like the simple life, which he is thrust into after he is rescued by Catherine, a widow with a young son.
The circus is an apt setting for this narrative, which is told through feats of strength, balance and acrobatic derring-do. The story also has inappropriate closeness between family members, namely Pippin and his horny grandmother, Berthe (Priscilla Lopez), and between Pippin’s power-hungry stepmother, Fastrada (fiery Sabrina Harper), and her son Lewis.
Paulus has a commendable cast. Sasha Allen, who depicts the Leading Player in the circus troupe that tells the story, is a commanding phenom. She delivers with captivating vocal power and great stage presence.
Lips invests the title character with innocence, wanderlust and magnetism. And Lopez shows that this sexagenarian has still got it. She delivers a showstopper that includes singing upside down on a trapeze.
Tony winner Rubinstein, who played Pippin in the Broadway original, is playful as a fuddy-duddy King Charles while Kristine Reese gives us a Catherine that is simple and decent. It’s clear that Reese is much smarter than the character she plays, but she delivers with such empathy that it’s hard not to fancy Catherine.
At Tuesday’s opening, the cast was having so much fun onstage that they sometimes broke out of character in laughter. Good thing we were laughing along with them.
Stephen Schwartz’s songs are good, but the show would not be enough without the spectacle and, for that, we must salute the lasting creativity of Bob Fosse.