Pippin Musical Theatre Review - We've Got Magic To Do!

Ty Taylor and cast in "Pippin"

Prince Pippin (Michael Arden, Tyrone Girodano) has just graduated from an institution of higher education with honors. And he has declared that he will do great things. He is determined to have a magnanimous life, to have his “…corner of the sky…” if you will. As soon as he can figured out exactly what it is he was meant to do.

Arden gives voice to Giordano from on high.

His first instinct is to become a warrior and fight battles of honor and courage alongside his father like his stepbrother Lewis (James Royce Edwards) does. After all, he should learn these things if he is to one day be King, right? Pippin’s Father, King Charles (Troy Kotsur) is not so keen on the idea of his smart son taking over the family business of kinging and running wars, but he relents and let Pippin participate in the battle. And he has no taste for it.

Harriet Harris as Berthe in "Pippin"

Pippin consoles his grandmother Berthe (Harriet Harris) who likes in the country. Her best advise is to grab a bit of life before it’s all gone, which Pippin takes to mean maybe the love of a woman, or maybe lots of women. Which still doesn’t do the trick. He tries over throwing his father, the arts and sloth. But nothing fits.

Melissa van der Schyff and Tyrone Giordano in "Pippin"

Meanwhile our Leading Player (Ty Taylor) stands just in the wings with pyrotechnics, huge dance numbers, magic tricks and showgirls, ready to infuse Pippin’s wayward life with the excitement worthy of the great life he is supposed to be having. To shepherd the boy’s life in the right direction.

But to where? To become what?

The first thing to know about this production of Pippin, is that Center Theatre Group has joined forces with Deaf West Theatre, the first professional resident Sign Language Theatre in the western half of the United States. All the performers in the show sign the dialogue – some players while speaking, others through a speaking counterpart. Thus the two Pippins. Admittedly the concept takes some getting use to. But just think of it as real life subtitles which become progressively easier to interpret and take in as just part of the choreography and drama of the performance.

(l to r) Michael Arden, Ty Taylor & Tyrone Giordano in "Pippin"

In a more abstract and simultaneously literal take on signed communication, hands, feet and a variety of limbs emerge from wholes on the stage floor, the signed partner to characters that have no hands or more often, engage in the song and dance along with the full-bodied players on stage. A bit creepy at first glance, the use of these floating appendages are a playful and imaginative reminder of the many ways we – both deaf and hearing people alike - use sign language in one form or another almost every day in life.

Tyron Giordano (l.) and Michael Arden (r.) with cast in "Pippin"

Arden and Giordano are truly a dynamic duo as singing/speaking Pippin and signing Pippin respectively. Even as they begin to separate, there is a wonderful synchronicity in their performance. Harriet Harris was great as Pippin’s audacious grandmother and the resident sing-a-long mistress. Gettelfinger and Edwards are the perfect impersonations of the most popular Disney characters we love to hate. Last, but not least, Ty Taylor is a tour de force as the puppet master of this grand master work that is Pippin’s amazing life. He commands the ensemble and stage every second he is on it, in action, in song and in sheer presence. The consummate showman, he was perfectly cast and gives a show-stopping performance as the Leading Player.

Ty Taylor in "Pippin"

Similarly, in the spirit of the big Las Vegas style, illusions are performed through the evening, always in the service of advancing the plot. The show flies by, without intermission, in eight episodic sequences that deliver our heroes to the inevitable conclusion that he has ended up exactly where he belongs, even though it is not the life he always imagined that it would be. Go figure, it has to do with a girl... and a duck.

This production of Pippin was delightful. The show provides its audience with a healthy helping of the classic dance stylings of Fosse and the eerie creepiness of the very real specter of Big Brother looming, manipulating our world. Pippin is timeless in the way it speaks to any and all of us who are plagued with the notion that we are destined to do great things; to those of us who dare to dream. 

Pippin opens January 15, 2009 and running through March 15, 2009 @

Mark Taper Forum
at the Music Center
downtown Los Angeles
135 N. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90012

213-628-2772

http://www.centertheatregroup.org/

http://www.deafwest.org/

Photos by Craig Schwartz

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