PIPPIN Continues to Deliver Magic to All

They’ve got magic to do, just for you. In the newest revival of Pippin, all the world’s a circus stage, populated by the limber and attractive acrobatic Players. The Lead Player (Patina Miller) addresses the audience, readying us for the story of Pippin (Matthew James Thomas), the son of Charlemagne (Terrence Mann), and his quest to find his purpose. It’s a magical coming of age journey set to 1970s music with a 9th century backdrop.
Pippin’s quest for purpose and fulfillment takes him from joining Charlemagne’s army to a sexual orgy to a simple life in the country. Each episode proves to be unsatisfying, but his journey, narrated and coached by the Lead Player, is building towards one final, ultimate act. But the Lead Player’s role in Pippin’s life proves to be just as nefarious as the power hungry family he’s surrounded by.
photo-07Interwoven in the story are dance numbers and magic illusions performed by the Players (reminiscent of the Kit Kat Club in Cabaret and the musical numbers in the film version of Chicago). With an ensemble cast of trained circus performers and skilled acrobats, their impressive choreography and tricks appear effortless on stage. This only adds to the magic of the world of Pippin, making the show a truly unforgettable theatre-going experience.
It’s a solid and successful musical with lyrics and music by Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Wicked). He presents a life lesson in the story of Pippin about how the quest for an extraordinary life may be ultimately unfulfilling. And, in this 2013 revival—directed by Diane Paulus—the final act of Pippin does feel unfulfilling.
The number one reason for this is the insertion of an intermission into the middle of the musical. Pippin is written as a one-act musical, and interrupting the story with an intermission kills a lot of the story’s momentum. But, as the Lead Player tells us in the revival of the show, the intermission is included because audience attention spans have shortened over time (a factor that Martin Scorsese didn’t factor into his 3-hour Quaalude opus Wolf of Wall Street). So, essentially, we only have ourselves to blame for the interruption in the story’s flow.
But even I could get past that, if it weren’t for the lackluster material provided in the second act. The magic of act one vanishes as a desolate Pippin wallows in an ordinary life. The lesson here works well for the story’s arc, but it feels that too much time is spent developing the inevitable character changes that occur (and one can only handle Pippin almost walking off-stage so many times).
photo-04Yet, what makes this act really flounder is Catherine. Played by Rachel Bay Jones with a squeaky voice, her chemistry with Pippin and her role in his life feel false and uninspired. (What’s the deal with all these squeaky love interests in musicals right now? Wasn’t Annaleigh Ashford’s nasally Lauren enough of a novelty in Kinky Boots?) It’s hard enough to buy them as a couple, much less believe her motivations when she clashes with the Lead Player’s directions. With this core story point falling flat, the rest of the musical flails in its attempts to teach a life lesson through Pippin—even with the altered ending from the original.
These quibbles aside, Pippin is still an extraordinary experience. It marvels everyone from frequent theatregoers to those newly initiated in the world of musical theatre. Many of Schwartz’s songs can stand alone, but all of the music blends well into the story (even if the 70s style feels hokey today). The inherent sexuality of the show, expressed both subtly and starkly, gives a modern edge to the show (along with some updated moments that resonate with today’s audiences). This is a show that I would love to go back and see over and over again (especially if I could get a behind the scenes look at the intricate backstage workings of the show).

Check out the casts’ performance at the Tonys for a true taste of the magic Pippin has to offer:


CARTWHEEL Is a Mental Gymnastic Story of Misperceptions and Half-Truths

In 2007, Amanda Knox was charged with murder for the death of her roommate in Italy. What ensued was a complex case with many unknown variables that still resulted in a conviction of her and others involved in the incident. Author Jennifer duBois uses this intriguing and tragic real life story as the basis for her latest novel, Cartwheel. She changes the setting and the names, but the heart of the true events remain as she explores how this terrible crime could have happened.
Cover-of-CartwheelLily Hayes has come to Buenos Aires to study Spanish. Once there, she gets caught up in a love triangle of sorts with her roommate Katy Kellers and their reclusive neighbor Sebastian LeCompte. So, when Katy is found dead, by Lily, the police are quick to accuse Lily. What follows is a tale of obscured truths and misconceived notions that culminate in destructive fashion. From the baffling cartwheel that Lily performs in her initial interrogation to the influence of the prosecutor’s wife on his investigation you’ll be squirming in your seat seeing how the characters squander their own reputations in their attempts to save them.
While duBois uses the framework of the Knox case to inform her story, she takes us deep into the characters minds to see how the case became so controversial. We see through the main characters’ eyes how their perceptions of each other and the lies they tell, often innocently, come back to hurt them. She paints a fully-realized portrait of the events surrounding the murder, but duBois never shows us what really happened the night of the murder, leaving us to guess what really happened.
It may be disheartening to know that the truth is not revealed, but the purpose of Cartwheel is to decide the truth for yourself (just as the characters so recklessly do). Consider yourself the judge as Lily Hayes is put on trial. We’re certainly given enough information to decide for ourselves (and enough information to mourn what happened to Amanda Knox). The insights into the characters are layered and nuanced, making Sebastian into a likable, yet smarmy, love interest and the prosecutor Eduardo Campos into a despicable manipulator (but that’s just my interpretation of the characters—what’s yours?).
Jennifer duBois uses a rich language to tell this story, making it all that more vivid. But duBois does not want you to think that she presumes to have the answers to the real Knox case. Knox may have allegedly done a cartwheel (a fact which has since been confirmed false); but Lily really did. And, as duBois puts it, “In the real universe is a girl who never did a cartwheel. This novel is the story of a girl who did.”

Where Are They Now: BROTHERS & SISTERS

bsIt’s been almost 3 years since we last saw the beloved Walker family. Sarah was walking down the aisle with her new, biological father Nick Brody (who had rekindled an old romantic relationship with Nora). Her marriage to Luc would be a beautiful moment to end the dramatic tale of these Brothers & Sisters (even though the show’s fate was still up in the air). Once we knew that the series was over, we could easily accept the happy endings hinted at for these characters—and easily ignore the health scare that Kitty faced in the finale.
Having just rewatched the entire series (available on Netflix), I am once again at a loss. How to cope without the Walkers in my life yet again? Obviously copious amounts of red wine (in exceedingly large wine glasses) are called for. But during the Oscars telecast I noticed two stars of the series (Sally Field and Calista Flockhart) and began to wonder what all the Walkers were up to now.

SALLY FIELDSally Field earned her third Oscar nomination last year (for Lincoln), and popped up at the Oscars this year as a presentee—and even in one of the hero montages (for her Oscar-winning role in Norma Rae). She doesn’t have much on her roster right now, though. In 2014 you will only find the Walker matriarch in the new Spider-Man sequel (reprising her role as Aunt May).

600full-rachel-griffithsRachel Griffiths has continued to enjoy life on the small screen, albeit far more briefly than her past, more successful series (Six Feet Under, Brothers & Sisters), with NBC’s 2013 summer show Camp (which was not renewed for a second season). She’s now returning to her Aussie roots starring in the TV movie Stalking Julia (an Australian political drama) and joining the cast of House Husbands (an Australian TV series I know absolutely nothing about—but I’ll just wait until the US remakes it). The oldest Walker daughter (and also, technically, the oldest of the Brody brood) can also be seen on the big screen in (briefly) Saving Mr. Banks and, next Friday, in Patrick: Evil Awakens (a film about a murderous boy now in a coma).

CF-calista-flockhart-20576156-2560-1919Calista Flockhart has been nonexistent since getting knocked up by young Seth. (Unless you count a guest voice role on the animated series The Penguins of Madagascar, which I do not.) Instead, she has been spending her time keeping her body in shape (to stave off the ravishments of age) and hanging out with her hubby Harrison Ford (hence why she was at the Oscars).

600full-balthazar-gettyBalthazar Getty may have been (blessedly) written off the show halfway through, but he’s still a Walker (no matter how insufferable he is). Getty has spent his freedom from the show trying to build up a movie career. He starred in one of last year’s film about Jack Kerouac, Big Sur (Kerouac was pretty big last year, huh?). This year he’ll be in the crime drama The Judge (also starring Vera Farmiga, Robert Downey Jr., and Leighton Meester) and is rumored to be in the crime drama A Fall From Grace; and in 2015 he is signed on to be in the film #Horror (with Chloe Sevigny, Natasha Lyonne, and Timothy Hutton). If you can’t wait for his films to be available, you can brave the Showtime series House of Lies this Sunday when Getty makes a guest appearance.

Matthew-Rhys-007Matthew Rhys has made the biggest TV comeback, starring next to the impeccable Keri Russell in the FX series The Americans (which just came back for its second season). Before returning to American TV, however, Rhys spent some time back in his homeland of Britain, working on some films and miniseries adapted from classic literature—The Mysteries of Edwin Drood and The Scapegoat (in which he plays a snobby British aristocrat and his poor doppelganger—it’s streaming on Netflix if you really feel the need to check it out). You can also see the middle Walker brother portray Mr. Darcy in the BBC adaptation of Death Comes to Pemberley (which has already aired across the pond and will air in the US sometime this year).

600full-dave-annableDave Annable has had a harder time establishing himself after saying goodbye to Justin Walker. His bad luck with TV (which started with Reunion in 2005) repeated itself with 666 Park Avenue, getting canceled amidst its first season. His film career seems to be a non-starter as well. I don’t know anyone who saw him star in the Katharine McPhee rom-com You May Not Kiss the Bride (2011) or make a smaller appearance in the Anna Faris rom-com What’s Your Number? (2011).

As far as the other Walkers and those who love them go, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many of them. Deceased Robert McCallister (Rob Lowe), of course, has maintained a high profile, starring in Behind the Candelabra and Parks & Recreation (he’s even tackling Ulyssses S. Grant in the upcoming miniseries To Appomattox). Former Walker Rebecca Harper (Emily VanCamp) has shot to even further pop culture stardom by headlining in her ABC series Revenge (taking over the subway ads that blistering 2011 summer after B&S ended), and she’s even breaking into the Marvel-verse in this year’s Captain America sequel. Sarah’s new spouse Luc (Gilles Marini) is holding his own with a recurring guest stint on 2 Broke Girls (among other random TV appearances). Little, obnoxious Paige (Kerris Dorsey) can be found starring on the Live Schreiber Showtime series Ray Donovan. However, her brother Cooper’s (Maxwell Perry Cotton) biggest role has been playing a young Matt Damon in last year’s Elysium. Everyone else has barely made a blip on the pop culture radar, but you never know when the Walkers will rise again like an unknown illegitimate child.