Friday, April 17, 2015

"Pippin" scores in Tampa despite off-key Pippin

   It was opening night for the national tour of “Pippin’ at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa. The house lights came on for intermission during the opening. In the audience, two friends compared their observations.
   “The guy who plays Pippin cannot sing at all.”
   “SO bad!”
   “But he’s really hot.”
   “SO hot!”

Sasha Allen and "Pippin" castmates
   How good is this new production of the classic musical?
   Despite an actor in the title role who regularly hits notes as sour as month-old milk, it turns out to be one of the best Broadway shows that has come our way in years.

   Sam Lips is the guy who plays Pippin in this very fictionalized story about Charlemagne’s son, and it's only fair to note that his acting is adequate and his dancing and acrobatic work are quite good.
   And, fortunately, he’s surrounded by an amazing cast without any other weak links.
   Sasha Allen, who lists “The Voice” first among her credits in the program, is ferocious as the Leading Player, a role most often associated with male actors. Allen has the vocal chops, the confidence and the charisma the role demands. She sometimes makes you think of Tina Turner in “Beyond Thunderdome.”

   John Rubinstein, the original Pippin on Broadway, is a lot of fun here as Charles, and Adrienne Barbeau is a revelation as Pippin’s grandmother Berthe.

   The 70-ish Barbeau swings from a trapeze, performing stunts, singing well while she’s hanging upside-down and looking quite good in her somewhat revealing form-fitting costume.
    Director Diane Paulus’ circus motif for the production, created by Gypsy Snider with a luscious big-top set by Scott Pask, is wondrous, packed with impressive illusions and Cirque du Solieil-style aerial stunts. Dominique Lemieux’ costumes, Kenneth Posner’s lights and Chet Walker’s choreography are all lovely and flavorful. And there’s killer a four-piece pit orchestra that sounds much larger than it is.

And, of course, “Pippin” is packed with great Stephen Schwartz songs and a clever book by Roger O. Hirson.
   It’s a show that’s almost flawless.
   Unfortunately, its one flaw is huge. 
   It runs through April 19 at the Straz Center, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa. The remaining shows are at 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets will run you $61.50-$85.50 plus service charge. call 813-229-7827 or go to

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