Pippin – Proctors Theater (Schenectady, NY), 5.27.15

PIP-0003M-KeyArt-5x7

When I was growing up, I always made a point of going to the high school theater productions. The reason for this was twofold: living in a small town, you were always bound to know someone involved in the show and our theater program was actually quite good. While I generally really enjoyed the programs that they put on, occasionally the former greatly outweighed that latter – one production of The Crucible, in particular, almost turned me off of theater altogether. I didn’t really dig The Fantasticks either, but overall their win percentage was pretty high. These productions helped solidify my love of going to see plays, particularly musicals.

It was during these years that I also fell in love with the musical Pippin. It’s kind of an odd choice because Pippin in kind of an odd play, but I think what initially made it appeal to me was it was completely new to me. Almost all the other musicals that they did were pretty famous and had movie versions: Oklahoma, Grease, The Music Man, Annie, Little Shop of Horrors, etc. So I was already knew the songs and basic plots for most of the musicals before I ever set foot in the theater. That doesn’t mean that they weren’t good or enjoyable, but I think that made them less likely to make a lasting impression. With Pippin I had no idea what to expect and it had a differently sensibility from a lot of the musicals that I was used to. I saw it multiple times and even went out and got the original Broadway soundtrack (on cassette!) that I listened to over and over again. While everyone else was obsessing over Les Miserables, I was listening to “Corner of the Sky,” “Simple Joys,” and “On the Right Track” ad nauseam.

So when I heard that Broadway was doing a revival of the musical, I was all over it. It did give me pause, however, that I had friends that went to see it and who really didn’t like it. It had been a while since I’d listened to the songs – I never replaced the soundtrack on cd or mp3 – and I worried that I was misremembering how good it was. I hesitated long enough that I never got to see the show before it closed on Broadway, but thankfully a traveling production was making a local stop and I would be able to see if I loved the revival as much as I did back when I was a teenager. The fact that the 2013 version of the Broadway show added in Cirque du Soleil elements was also intriguing; our high school production was good, but I assure you it didn’t incorporate any acrobatics or stunts. I could see how that could totally work with the show, but it would depend on the execution. I scored a deal so I got $25 tickets for the front row and I was ready to see if Pippin was one of those things that just doesn’t hold up to the youthful enthusiasm that you remembered.

Pippin is very loosely based on an actual person – the son of King Charlemagne in the Middle Ages. And by very loosely I mean that there was an actual person named Pippin and that’s about it. This is not a show that you go to for historical accuracy. If you are looking for that, go see Wolf Hall. Now that he’s finished school, Pippin is having extraordinary something of an existential crisis; he believes that he is extraordinary and should leave an extraordinary life, but nothing that he tries leaves him fulfilled. The musical follows him through these pursuits as Pippin is guided by a mysterious Leading Player and her troupe of performers who keep alluding to “the big finale” that they have planned for him.

The good news is that I still loved Pippin as much as I did back in the day; I was somewhat surprised that while I had forgotten a few plot points along the way, I still knew the words to just about every song. It’s probably a good thing that the audience was encouraged to participate at one point because I was practically biting the inside of my cheek to stop myself from singing the songs. That would have been rude regardless, but I sincerely lack any musical talent and ain’t nobody got time for that.

I initially found the addition of the acrobatics a little distracting; part of that was simply because I was sitting so close to the stage and it was hard to take it all in. The revival of Pippin is a much more visually disorienting production than what I was used to – there are people climbing up ribbons and twirling, tumblers whizzing across the stage the actors and actresses being tossed around with somewhat wonton abandon. I was so busy trying to see everything that I found that I wasn’t paying enough attention to the actual performances. I was worried that this was going to be a musical that focused on style over substance, but either I adapted to all the mayhem that was going on or it just started to make sense. By halfway through the first act, I was more fully on board with what was going on and in the end it really did enhance the story. I’m glad that I knew the basics of the story beforehand however; I could see if you didn’t know anything about Pippin how you could be a little lost with all that’s going on. Even a more bare-bones production of Pippin doesn’t follow a lot of the narrative beats that you would expect; elements of magic and suspending realism are in the show’s DNA. So really, adding in the Cirque du Soleil-like performances is really just taking Pippin to its logical next level. And man – those performers were amazing. There’s got to be a very small group of people who can sing, dance and balance themselves on their hands or hang upside down high in the air. It was all spectacularly thrilling to watch and even if you didn’t dig anything else that was going on, you’d be hard pressed not to be impressed by all the acrobatics and tricks that you witnessed. I’ve never actually gone to Cirque du Soleil, but I’d be more open to it after what I saw in Pippin. Not the same caliber, obviously, but for someone who never thought tumbling or acrobatics would be that fun to watch it certainly piqued my interest.

Pippin was also a funnier show than I remembered; there were plenty of moments of laughter throughout the musical. Charlemagne (John Rubinstein, who originated the role of Pippin on Broadway in the original production) was almost entirely comic relief, as was his wife Fastrada. The real show stopper however was Berthe (Adrienne Barbeau). Her performance of “No Time at All” was the highlight of the first act. Barbeau was clearly having a ball up there and at almost 70 wasn’t afraid to do some acrobatics as well. She really only has the one song, but she makes the absolute most of it and she received one of the biggest ovations of the evening.

It’s kind of easy to dismiss Pippin as an odd little show – I’d forgotten just how weird the ending is – that is something of a trifle, but there are some dark and disturbing issues bubbling up just under the surface of the play. This was more evident during this viewing of the play – not only do some of the themes resonate a little more with me now that I’m older, but there’s only so much that you can get away with in a high school production. There are a few racier scenes in Pippin that definitely were toned down a bit the first time that I saw it (thanks School Board). Part of the magic of Pippin is dealing with issues of identity and fulfillment in such a light and airy way.

Some other thoughts:

  • Though I know that the role of Leading Player has been played by people of both genders, I am much more accustomed to a man in the part (Ben Vereen was on the soundtrack that I had). So it took a little adjustment on my part to hear those songs in a woman’s voice. It totally worked, of course, and added a different dynamic to the interactions with Pippen. And really, it would have been an adjustment for me to hear anyone other than Vereen singing.
  • There was one point in the play where I legitimately was concerned for the actor who was doing one of the stunts. I know that they are trainer professionals and he’s probably done that trick a hundred times, but I really didn’t want to be up close and personal if that dude fell and broke his neck. Thankfully, he pulled it off without incident and we all let out a big sigh of relief.
  • Because I am me, I almost lost my shoe in the orchestra pit during the second act. Don’t ask.
  • I also had a mini-anxiety attack when I couldn’t find my car in the parking garage. Yesterday really wasn’t my day on many levels.
  • The one part of the show that didn’t necessary work for me was a prolonged soft shoe dance number by the Leading Player. She was good, but I just think in the context of a shoe where there is a lot of visual stimulation, it felt boring by comparison. Even half as long would have worked for me.
  • I have a weird thing where I don’t like to make eye contact with anyone while they are singing, so front row really wasn’t the best place for me to be.
  • At one point, one of the members of the performance troupe plays a chicken/rooster and damn near steals the entire show. That dude definitely decided to seize his moment.
  • He’s on stage for just a moment, but there is a super cute dog that is part of the show.

All in all, I am so glad that I decided to go see Pippin and it totally lived up to my memories of the show. The performances of the leads were all great and the members of the troupe deserve nothing but praise for all the aerial stunts and gymnastics that they consistently pulled off flawlessly. Pippin isn’t a musical that everyone will like – there’s no denying that it’s a little offbeat – but as someone who holds it in a special place in her heart, I was totally impressed with it. It was a fun and entertaining night at the theater and it inspired me to seek out the original Broadway soundtrack on a more modern format (though I’m guessing that cassette is still in my childhood bedroom). Well done by everyone involved; they lived up to the promise that “We’ve got magic to do…….. Just for you”

Pippin is currently on a U.S tour.

 

Advertisements

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – End of May Edition

Even though it was just Memorial Day weekend, I still can’t believe that we are in the final days of May already. The summer hasn’t even officially started and I already feel like its flying by. Part of the issue is that I’m already almost booked up every weekend for the next three months, which sounds both awesome and exhausting. I like to be busy, but I think I’ve overdone it a little. At this rate, the next thing I’ll know it will be September and the summer will be nothing but a blur of ticket stubs and road trips. Things just need to slow down a little bit.

Of course, the world of pop culture slows down for no one and I’ve done my best to capture everything that you might have missed in the last seven days with this week’s roundup. So while I, Like Cher, try to figure out how to turn back time, catch yourself up on all the pop culture goodness that the world has to offer.

  • Pratt gives a drunken acting lesson:

 

  • Dave Grohl joined Paul McCartney on stage:

 

  • Jay Z squashed a beef with performance artist Marian Abramovic in the most street way possible – by producing some receipts.

AP778768375042

  • Zachary Quinto spent some time on Sesame Street:

 

  • Emilio Estevez is obviously rooting for the Mighty Ducks in the NHL playoffs:

 

Time for some trailers:

  • Fantastic Four trailer:

 

  • A Very Murray Christmas:

 

  • A full Scream Queens trailer:

 

  • Batkid Begins:

 

  • Golan the Insatiable (featuring the voices of Aubrey Plaza and Rob Riggle):

 

  • Johnny Depp in Black Mass:

 

  • Terminator: Genisys:

 

  • A look at the upcoming season of Hannibal:

 

  • A trailer for the new season of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee:

 

  • Sharing the trailer for the Point Break remake is not an endorsement:

 

  • The official trailer for Amy:

 

  • Keanu Reeves in Knock Knock:

 

  • Jason Ritter in 7 Minutes:

 

  • The Gallows:

 

  • Until Dawn for PS4:

 

  • A teaser of the new season of The Knick:

 

  • Alyson Hannigan and Sarah Michelle Gellar had a mini-Buffy reunion:

 

  • Comedian and actress Anne Meara (wife of Jerry Stiller and mother of Ben Stiller) passed away at 85.

As always, we end with the mashups and supercuts:

  • A fan edit gives Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Riker his own show:

 

 

  • A ton of super-NSFW insults from Veep:

 

  • A supercut of people slapping each other in the movies:

 

  • Bad Lip Reading turns The Avengers into a bunch of rednecks:

 

  • Daredevil gets Law & Order opening credits:

 

  • And finally, Mario Kart: Fury Road:

Lazy Monday

binge-watching-tv-linked-to-feelings-of-depression-and-loneliness-1102768-TwoByOne

I had the best of intentions for my three day weekend. While I had a few things on the calendar – enough to keep me from going stir crazy – I also had a lot of free time built in, primarily on Memorial Day. This was the time that I fully expected to use to catch up on some movies – I still haven’t seen Mad Max: Fury Road – get ahead on my blog posts and generally get the errands and preparation done so that I was starting the week out on the right foot. Maybe I’d even finally have the chance to check out the web series/books/television shows/web pages/podcasts that I’ve been meaning to get around to but simply haven’t had the time for. This was going to be a fun and productive day.

Instead, I spent a lot of my Memorial Day laying on the couch and watching truly regrettable reality shows like Kendra On Top, a show that I don’t even normally watch and barely knew existed. So much for my best laid plans.

Part of the issue was that I didn’t get home until after 2 in the morning from Sunday night’s Yankee game. In the old days, getting home at 2 am would be an early night, but now I don’t bounce back anything like what I used to. I was a strange combination of wired and exhausted when I finally made it back, so I didn’t even go to sleep right away. I wound up wandering around my apartment without any clear focus or purpose – I was too tired to watch TV and not tired enough to go to bed. I almost felt a little drunk, which was impossible since I hadn’t had anything to drink all night. But there I was, making ramen noodles in the middle of the night. That should have been my first sign that Monday was not going to be the whirlwind of activity that I was hoping it would be.

Since I have a cat, I didn’t really get to sleep in on Memorial Day – around 7 am the swift paw of justice was smacking me in the face to tell me that it was time to get up. He didn’t even need food; he had just tired of hanging out in the bedroom and wanted to change locations, which apparently required me to move as well. I put him off for a while, but it was only delaying the inevitable. Pumpkin is very determined when he has to be and so I found myself up after only 4 hours of sleep and with very little interest in doing anything that required me leaving my apartment or getting out of my pajamas. The handwriting was on the wall – it was going to be a lazy day where very little was accomplished. I didn’t even get around to loading the dishwasher or doing laundry. This was strictly a laying on the couch and occasionally napping kind of day.

The day wasn’t a complete wash, however; after I was able to break whatever hypnotic hold that Kendra On Top had on me (I watched six episodes), I did finally get around to watching some things that had been sitting on my DVR for a while. I managed to get my DVR storage down to 28%, which is kind of a minor miracle; it would be lower if I’d been ambitious enough to tackle the entire season of The Americans that I still need to consume. Ironically most of what I watched was on the dark or serious side, but after 3 hours of a reality show about a former Playboy playmate it was necessary to prevent my mind from completely turning to mush. First up was Montage of Heck, the documentary about Kurt Cobain. I kind of thought that I already knew a lot about Cobain, since he was a huge part of my high school experience, but I found the documentary pretty informative and generally interesting. The film felt strangely intimate; it relies on home movie footage and interviews with family and friends as well as montages of stock footage and original songs. I never worshiped Kurt Cobain like some people my age did – I really enjoyed their music, but I was kind of ambivalent about him as a person – and while the documentary gave an interesting glimpse into who he was as a man, it didn’t do much to change my overall opinion of him. Kurt Cobain and I had very different world views and while I’d like to think I was an angst ridden teenager that needed someone to give voice to my disaffected youth, I think I just liked Nirvana’s music and Cobain’s voice. Push came to shove, I was more of a Pearl Jam girl, which probably greatly diminishes my street cred. Still Montage of Heck was interesting.

My next selection was even darker – a documentary about the making of Alfred Hitchcock’s lost documentary on the end of Nazi Germany, Night Will Fall. It felt like something that I should see, hence why I DVRed it, but you’re never really in the mood for graphic depictions of what the Allied forces found when they liberated concentration camps. Memorial Day seemed as appropriate day as any to sit down and watch it and while the visual imagery was sometimes difficult to see, it was the most unflinching look at this period of time as I have ever seen. Obviously most of the depictions that we’ve seen of the Holocaust are fictionalized, so this is an extremely important film to see because it is mostly comprised of film footage that the British troops took when they arrived at the various camps. Because it is it is so raw, the footage is extremely powerful and gives a viewer a real and honest look at what was done to people simply because of how they chose to worship. This especially resonated with me since I have been to Auschwitz, which was one of the most powerful things that I’ve ever experienced. The war footage is inter-spliced with interviews that also give a context to the making of the original documentary and explains how this film was almost lost to history. Not the most enjoyable way to spend the day off and I had to take a break once or twice, but it is an important film to see and be reminded that there is more to this piece of history than the fictionalized versions that we typically see on the big screen.

Since I was in the documentary state of mind, I finished things off with Evolution of a Criminal, which aired on PBS and explores how a 16 year old honors student becomes a bank robber. The director is the former teen in question and the documentary involves interviews with his family and friends as they explore what lead to the tragic decision that sent him to jail. Darius Monroe wasn’t a bad kid who got into trouble, but concerns about the financial survival of his family after they were victims of a crime made him think that his own criminal activity was the only solution. The documentary also features interviews with some of the people that were in the bank they day that he robbed it, as Darius visits his victims to apologize for what he did. It was an interesting examination of the factors that lead to a derailment of a promising kid’s future and how when people are living to pay check to pay check the disastrous impact that one missed check can have on their survival. The most interesting interview is with the prosecutor who handled Darius’ case; she’s happy to participate in the documentary, but she’s the least convinced that he has truly turned his life around. She’s easily the most cynical of the bunch, but life experience makes her suspicion understandable. Not has heavy as Night Will Fall or as intense as Montage of Heck, but a good way to wrap up what turned into a documentary binge-watch.

So how did you spend you Memorial Day? Did you travel? Have a family BBQ? Binge-watch Netflix? Hit the cinema? Let us know in the comments below. Hopefully my 4th of July will be more productive.