Foibles and Fables To Portray: Thoughts on Pippin – July 27, 2013

The search for the meaning of life and the quest of finding a place in the world is a universal and eternal journey everyone makes and takes at some point in their lives. Some know exactly who they want to be and what they want to do and travel down one road, while others meander through various paths in the search for the right track. Distractions and doubt can deter or delay the journey, resulting in a detour that could lead one down a different path than intended, to a place unexpected and extraordinary; such themes are at the heart of Pippin, currently playing at the Music Box Theater. This Tony Award winning revival started its life at the American Reparatory Theater (A.R.T.) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and soon transferred to Broadway; I was familiar with the story and score, though having only seen the filmed production in the early 1980s. When I learned about this revival, and the presence of Terrence Mann in its cast (more on that later) I was piqued by the inclusion of the circus theme – I had heard and seen (via YouTube) much about this production, and their performance on the Tony Awards cemented my interest in seeing this show. Once again I headed to TKTS to obtain my ticket, along with my good friend Kelley, and was glad to see that the show was up on the TKTS boards, albeit with a 20% discount (a 20% discount is better than none, I suppose).

Pippin marquee

The story of Pippin starts with the introduction of the Leading Player, the mysterious and alluring ringmaster, who guides the titular character, the son of Charlemagne, through his quest of finding his place in the world – his “Corner of the Sky”. The use of the circus theme is accentuated with the show’s opening number “Magic To Do”, with the cast of players performing amazing feats of acrobatics and Bob Fosse-inspired choreography, which works spectacularly well as a construct for the show. While all the acrobatics were thrilling to watch, at times it was a bit overwhelming to see them all at once – there were times I wasn’t quite sure where to focus my attention among the amazingly talented and agile ensemble cast, so I might have missed seeing some of the performers. The lighting and scenic design was inspired and complemented all the actions onstage.

Pippin cast list

The principal cast was astounding (most of whom I had seen at met at the CD signing a few weeks ago) – the Tony Awards bestowed upon Patina Miller and Andrea Martin (as the Leading Player and Berthe, Pippin’s grandmother) were well deserved. Both were brilliant in their respective roles: Patina Miller is a formidable triple threat – an amazing singer, a graceful dancer and a fantastic actress (who can also sing, walk and hula hoop all at the same time); Andrea Martin basically stopped the show for a few minutes after her number “No Time at All” – critical reviews had alluded to her performance in that number was not to be missed, while giving little detail as to why this was the case. After seeing her performance, I wholeheartedly agree with the critics (for a change), and I won’t spoil it here either – all I will say is that the thunderous ovation she received was richly deserved. Terrence Mann and Charlotte d’Amboise were equally amazing as Charlemagne and his wife Fastrada (it’s also a fun fact to know that they are also married to each other offstage) – Terrence Mann was a delight to see in every scene he was in, and Charlotte d’Amboise is a fantastic dancer.

The stage door experience was a fun one, as always, with a small crowd of people waiting outside – I wasn’t quite sure if many of the actors would come out the stage door, as I attended a Saturday matinee, and there was another show in the evening. I’m sure most of the actors were resting up, as there was much movement and action going on onstage. Happily, Matthew James Thomas, Andrew Cekala and Rachel Bay Jones emerged from the stage door to sign playbills and to pose for photos – all three were fantastic in their respective roles as Pippin, Theo and Catherine, and chatted with those at the stage door a while.

Pippin stage door

At the stage door with Matthew James Thomas and Rachel Bay Jones

 Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed this production and all the energy and theatrics on display from a truly multi-talented cast – if a Tony Award for Best Ensemble ever existed (and I really believe there should be one), this cast would be awarded with one. There was a lot of Magic To Do onstage, and for a few hours I did feel as if I was transported to their world, and (almost) makes me want to run away to join the circus.

Pippin signed playbill

Parts to Perform, Hearts to Warm: Pippin CD Signing at Barnes & Noble – July 9, 2013

As stated in a previous blog, while there are a plethora of CD signings, books signings, etc. that occur at Barnes & Noble, I usually attend those in which I have an interest, and such was the case for the CD signing for the newly released cast recording of Pippin, the 2013 Tony Award winner for Best Musical Revival. I was quite familiar with the show and its score, and was looking forward to meeting the principal cast as well as composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz; in addition to the CD signing, there would also be a performance from the cast, which was an extra treat.

Pippin CD signing

This CD signing was again at the Barnes & Noble store on the Upper East side, and as my wont, I arrived early (before the store opened) and saw that about a dozen people were already waiting outside; upon entry, made my way to the music section, bought my CDs (limit two per person), received the [pink] wristband that would guarantee me entry (though I always find it amusing that the disclaimer that “this wristband does not guarantee you entry to this event” is printed on the wristbands). I then headed to my (now usual) spot in front of where the CD signing was to take place to wait – a few of people started to arrive and wait on line (of which I was first) about an hour into waiting. As I waited, I stuck up conversations with a trio of fans who collectively had seen the show over 80 times, and were among the fan chorus featured on the track “No Time at All” (a first for a Broadway cast recording, I’m told). The line steadily grew as time went on (and around the 1 PM mark, I overheard that all the wristbands were distributed).

The cast arrived roughly an hour before the event start (4PM) and there were press people from Broadwayworld.com and Broadway.com conducting video interviews with the arriving cast; the doors opened roughly a quarter to four, and the seating began, with those in the front of the line seated in the center. Shortly after all the seats were filled, the video of the recording session of Pippin’s opening number “Magic to Do” was shown prior to Barnes & Noble Event manager Steven Sorrentino introduced composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz to the stage, who was greeted with great applause. Mr. Schwartz in turn introduced each of the cast members who would be performing: first, Rachel Bay Jones sang “Kind of Woman”, she was then joined by Matthew James Thomas to sing the duet “Love Song”; finally, Tony Award Winner Patina Miller sang “Simple Joys”, all of which were greeted with great applause and cheering.

Clockwise from top left: composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz, Rachel Bay Jones, Patina Miller, and Matthew James Thomas and Rachel Bay Jones

Clockwise from top left: composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz, Rachel Bay Jones, Patina Miller, and Matthew James Thomas and Rachel Bay Jones

Afterwards the customary press photo session commenced before the CD signing portion of the event began; in addition to the aforementioned principal cast members, Terrence Mann, Charlotte d’Amboise and Andrea Martin were also in attendance, as well as the Tony Award itself. In another (slight) deviation from previous CD signing sessions, those seated at the left side of the stage (and seated in the chairs closest to where the tables at which the cast would be signing the CDs) were the first to line up to get their CDs signed (which makes sense, so the event runners would be able to clear that immediate area first). The cast was genial and chatted with everyone on the line, and every now and again, press photographers lingered about to snap photos.

Clockwise from top left: Charlotte d'Amboise, Rachel Bay Thomas, Stephen Schwartz, Patina Miller (and the Tony Award), Terrence Mann, Andrea Martin and Matthew James Thomas

Clockwise from top left: Charlotte d’Amboise, Rachel Bay Thomas, Stephen Schwartz, Patina Miller (and the Tony Award), Terrence Mann, Andrea Martin and Matthew James Thomas

It was quite a thrilling experience to meet the cast and to chat with them as well – I did make it a point to thank Stephen Schwartz for all his amazing scores and to shake his hand (he was quite genial about it). There was not much opportunity to linger about, as there was quite a line of people waiting to get their CDs signed, and the fact that they had an 8 PM show that evening. Though I have yet to see the show – tickets are for the most part expensive, and there’s usually a massive line for the general rush tickets (while chatting with the trio of Pippin fans, they had informed me that people usually line up  as early as 2 AM the night before (or  the morning of, depending on how you look at it) the box office opens to purchase the limited amount of $37 rush tickets [just as a point of reference, Broadway box offices open at 10 AM on weekdays] – I do plan on seeing the show soon, though I have seen video clips of this production (as well as the performance on the Tony Awards) and it looks quite Extraordinary.

Pippin Signed CD booklet

Pippin Signed CD booklet

Greeted with Thunderous Acclaim: Further Musings on Annie – July 6, 2013

Cast changes are an inevitable occurrence in long running productions – while there are actors who will remain with one show for long stretches of time (this is often the case with ensemble cast members), most actors will depart from a production (for variety of reasons, though there have been instances when said actor returns to that production, either reprising the role he/she once played or perform in a different role), and the replacement actors will often bring their own sensibilities and interpretations to their roles, with the opportunity to bring a fresh new perspective to the production while at the same time stay true to the intent of the production. Of course, then there’s the “business” side to show business, wherein cast changes are a component of marketing a production to attract potential theatergoers; for that, I do feel that there are two types of such casting: stunt casting, (usually when a big name celebrity best known for their work on television, film and/or radio is cast in a leading role for a short period of time) and star casting (wherein an established theatre actor is cast in a leading role for a short period of time). Both methods of casting are effective on the financial side of things, though sometimes not as successful in their intent; this quite long-winded explanation is a roundabout rationale for my second visit to Annie, still playing at the Palace Theater [my initial thoughts can be found here], which was to see Jane Lynch (best known as “Sue Sylvester” on the television show Glee), who was cast as Miss Hannigan for roughly three months (she is set to leave the production July 14th).

Annie Marquee Jane Lynch

When I arrived in Times Square, there was a long line at TKTS, and there were a good amount of shows listed on the TKTS board, Annie included at 40% off; however, I bypassed TKTS this time (I wasn’t in the mood to wait on the long line in the blistering sunlight – it was a quite a hot and humid day), and made my way to the Palace Theater where, to my delight, there were general rush tickets available for a reasonable price. I’ve already mentioned my thoughts on the production aspects of the show in my previous blog about the show, so I won’t reiterate them here, and the cast was essentially the same as when I last saw the show, save for the fact that understudy Sadie Sink was on as the titular character.

Annie cast list summer 2013

Needless to say Jane Lynch was astounding as Miss Hannigan, who played the role quite differently than Katie Finneran – Ms. Lynch’s approach to the role was not unlike her television alter ego Sue Sylvester, a mean bully of an authority figure with a penchant for blowing a coach’s whistle, and there were some clever references to her television role included throughout the show as well. Her tall stature also provided many humorous moments when interacting with the orphans, especially with Emily Rosenfeld, the smallest (and youngest) orphan Molly. Attention must be paid to the young actress playing the orphans, who all are, in my opinion, Broadway stars in the making should they choose to pursue this in their future. Sadie Sink, who went on as Annie was outstanding, and I’m glad that she will be one of the two girls succeeding Lilla Crawford as the optimistic titular character [the other being Taylor Richardson]. Though I had mentioned it in my earlier blog post, I do feel the need to reiterate the awesomeness that is Anthony Warlow as Oliver Warbucks, who exudes charm and heart in every scene he is in, and genuinely looks like he’s having an utterly marvelous time onstage.

The stage door experience was great as always, and as the performance I attended was a matinee, and there would be another performance later that night, the adult cast did not come out the stage door, though (once again) all the girls did. The stage door area was once again packed with people, mostly young children and their parents, who were all thrilled to see and to praise the girls for their wonderful performances.

As stated previously, I thoroughly enjoyed Annie and its message of optimism during hard times, and would highly recommend seeing the show while Jane Lynch is in the show (though Ms. Lynch will be succeeded by noted Broadway actor Faith Prince, so the odds of my seeing Annie again are high).

Annie playbill signed

More information for the show can be found on their official site: http://www.anniethemusical.com/