|Magic to Do: Pippin the Musical stopped by Cleveland's|
Playhouse Theater during its current national tour
Despite mixed reviews, the play's derring-do helped fuel the play to a successful five-year run on Broadway. The original cast featured prominent names like Vereen, Jill Clayburgh, Irene Ryan (best known for her role in The Beverly Hillbillies), and John Rubinstein as Pippin. In addition, the play featured the choreography of the famed Bob Fosse, the financial backing of the Motown record label, as well as the tunes of multi-Grammy/Oscar/Tony-winning composer Stephen Schwartz.
The most recent Broadway production of Pippin, which took home four Tony Awards in 2013 (including Best Revival of a Musical), replaced the era-specific performance troupe with a more modern, Cirque du Soleil-type traveling circus. This aspect piqued my spouse's interest in the revival the most, and just added more reason to catch this play on its national tour.
While seeing the play was an easy decision, the decision of when to see it was more tricky: since no dates had been scheduled for Columbus for 2015, the choice for us came down to a possibly winter-weather laden trip in February in Cleveland or a summertime heat/humidity jaunt to Louisville, KY. We chose Cleveland in February and, suffice it to say, the weather was plain nasty on this Valentines Day, with single-digit temperatures, gusty winds and occasional whiteout conditions.
|Vicious Valentines Day temperatures, snow and winds greeted us|
as we made our way to the watch the play
This visit was our first trip to Playhouse Square for both of us, and we were caught off guard a bit by the size of the facility. Emerging in 1921 and 1922 as a conglomeration of five theaters, Playhouse Square had its heyday fairly in their early decades of existence; however, the rise of television, incidents of vandalism and general neglect, and a fire at the Ohio Theater in 1964 led to plans by the theater owners to raze the buildings.
Thankfully, efforts spearheaded by educator-turned-historical-preservationist Ray Shepardson started in 1970 allowed the theaters to prove they were still viable as performing arts facilities. Since then, Playhouse Square has undergone extensive restoration and revival efforts that have transformed it into the largest performing arts complex in the United States outside of Lincoln Center in New York. The current facility now holds 11 theater stages and numerous shops and restaurants, and has become a major anchor in the ongoing revitalization of Cleveland's downtown area.
|A panorama of sights both outside and inside the Connor Palace Theatre|
The play featured highlight performances from two of its most elderly cast members. John Rubinstein, who originated Pippin in the initial Broadway production, came full circle of sorts in playing Pippin's father for the national tour. Contrary to the serious demeanor of the original production, Rubinstein's played the role as a bit of goofy incompetent and brought a manic energy to the stage. His centerpiece came with his deft handling of the song proclaiming the glories of battle, "War Is A Science", including its rapid-fire, rap-like final verses.
The other obvious highlight was Priscilla Lopez's handling of Berthe, Pippin's paternal and rather randy grandmother. She played to the crowd in perhaps the most sing-along tune in the play ("No Time At All") and handled herself on the trapeze like few performers, 60-plus-years-old or otherwise, could do. Lopez drew a rousing response from the gathered right after her act as well as the loudest cheers during her curtain call.
As a fan of the play, my spouse thoroughly enjoyed this revival. She appreciated the elements that they did keep from the first production (for example, despite the new circus theme, they enhanced and paid homage to the original Fosse-created choreography) and really welcomed the appended ending involving Pippin's step-child Theo, as he became the new mark for the Leading Player and attending circus performers' attentions.
|Inside the 2,800 seat Connor Palace before showtime|
as well as a listing of the Pippin's cast.
1501 Euclid Ave
Cleveland, OH 44115
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Pippin (U.S. Tour)
Next closest-distance shows to Columbus
Nashville, TN (6-hour drive): March 10 - 15, 2015, Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC)
Louisville, KY (3-hour drive): June 2 - 7, 2015, The Kentucky Center
Chicago, IL (5 1/2-hour drive): July 29 - August 8, 2015, Cadillac Palace Theatre
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