THEATER REVIEW

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Pippin

By Juliet Schoen / Theater Critic

Why Pippin? That is one of many questions raised in the musical named “Pippin,” playing at the Mark Taper Forum. Full of sound and fury, the show seemingly explores the life of Pippin of France, son of Charlemagne, who lived in the ninth century. How does he end up on what looks like a farm in Kansas?

This is a hodge-podge of a show, which tries to combine magic with its curious story line. There are many staged magic tricks, which are gimmicky rather than insightful. Perhaps they are just an excuse to bring in four scantily clad young ladies who are supposedly magicians’ helpers but are more like stage hands.

Our hero, introduced by a master of ceremonies, is a naïve young man who is trying to find the meaning of life. To find fulfillment, the young royal tries several outlets such as war and sex.

Neither seems to work, although the real Pippin found satisfaction in both. The production allows for the introduction of some wild stagecraft and ludicrous costumes. Why is Pippin wearing jeans and a T-shirt?

With all the talent involved, there must be some entertaining moments and there are. Ty Taylor as the “Leading Player” is a commanding presence and gives the play some momentum. There is a terrific number by Harriet Harris as Pippin’s bawdy grandmother. She gives a smashing performance of “No Time at All.”

Sara Gettelfinger is delightful as the nasty stepmother who hides her hypocrisy in a song called “Shed a Little Sunshine.”

This is a joint production of Center Theatre Group and Deaf West Theater, which gave us the delightful “Big River.” Here, too, deaf actors are backed up by speaking cast members.

The idea is gratifying, especially with so many hearing-deficient members in the audience. There is a great deal of “signing,” especially by hands that emerge from the stage with boring frequency.

There is no faulting the members of the large cast who give it their all. Michael Arden and his vocal shadow, Tyrone Giordano, are an excellent pair as the eponymous hero. Troy Kotsur is an imposing Charlemagne, voiced by Dan Callaway, and Melissa van der Schyff is charming as Pippin’s true love, Catherine.

The culprit in the piece must be Roger O. Hirson, responsible for the book. Heroic efforts are expended by Jeff Calhoun, director and choreographer, Tobin Ost, scenic and costume designer, and Steven Landau, music director. The reliable Stephen Schwartz provided the music and lyrics, which were serviceable if not particularly inspired.

Incidentally, Pippin died at the age of 36 with no outstanding accomplishments. Why resurrect him?