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Magical PIPPIN almost finds its “Corner of the Sky,” at the Conner Palace Theatre

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

PIPPIN, the Stephen Schwartz (music and lyrics) and Roger O. Hirson (book) magical show is now on stage at The Palace Theatre.  It tells a modern version of the mythical tale of Pippin, the oldest son of King Charlemagne, and his search for purpose and identity.

The clarion song of the show, and one of my favorite tunes from any Broadway musical, is “Corner of the Sky” which tells of the desire of many people who strive to find their purpose in life. They yearn to find safety, security, and satisfaction and strive to find the place “eagles can fly” because, as our hero sings, it’s where “my spirit can run free.”

The original 1972 version of the show starred Ben Vereen as Leading Player, the emcee and guide of the action, and Jonathan Rubinstein as Pippin.  That production centered on the singing, dancing and charisma of Vereen.  The story line was almost secondary.  Since that time many productions have altered focus and highlight Pippin and his mission.

The 2013 Broadway revival, conceived by Diane Paulus, which won the Tony for Best Revival of a Musical, and garnered a Best Actress in a Musical for Patina Miller as Leading Player, added circus performers and acrobats, thus creating the “Magic to Do.”  It had Pippin, Grandma Bertha, and the Leading Player joining in the exciting athletic displays.

The touring production carries much of the image of the latest Broadway staging. The acrobats and circus performers are present, the emphasis is on Pippin and his search, and the show visually dazzles. But those who saw the original or are familiar with the score, may be thrown by some of the changes that have been made to the lyrics and the altered arrangements.  (I have seen the original and recent Broadway production, about 10 other productions, and directed the show.  My son, who was sitting next to me on opening night, has portrayed both Pippin and Theo.  We had a wonderful time debating the changes.)

Sam Lips, who understudied the role on Broadway, is now Pippin.  Lips has a boyish charm and nice youthful enthusiasm.  He is good looking, has a nice singing voice (especially in the higher registers), and has the acting chops to pull off the role.  He dances well and his acrobatics add nicely to the role.  His “Corner of the Sky” and “Morning Glow” passed my very high level of expectations.

John Rubinstein, yes, the same guy who played Pippin in the original Broadway show, is now King Charles.  He has a wonderful time playing the role, adding delightful shticks with his mobile face.  It’s too bad they altered some of the words to, “Welcome Home,” because Rubinstein would have delighted with some of the omitted lyrics.

Priscilla Lopez almost steals the show as “Grandma” Bertha.  She not only gets all the requisite laughs from “No Time At All,” but stopped the show with her agility as a gymnast!

Molly Tynes is properly conniving as Fastrada, who wants nothing more than to have Charles’ crown pass on to Louis so she can brag, “My son the king.”

Kristine Reese makes for a convincing Catherine.  Her “Love Song,” with Pippin, is charming.

Sasha Allen displays a marvelous voice as Leading Player.  Unfortunately, she doesn’t compare to either Patina Miller, or Baldwin Wallace University grad, Ciara Renée, who replaced Miller on Broadway.  Allen doesn’t do much in the way of gymnastics, walks and poses rather than dances, and has some difficulty with spoken and sung line interpretation.

The sets, special effects, and the musical accompaniment are all Great White Way quality.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  The touring production of PIPPIN, in spite of some minor flaws, is mainly magical.  It nicely carries out the story’s theme and should delight those who are seeing the show for the first time, or are seeing the new and reconfigured edition of the show. From my perspective,  it would be worth seeing the show just to hear “Corner of the Sky” and “Morning Glow.”

Tickets for PIPPIN, which runs through February 15, 2015, at the Connor Palace Theatre, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to