REVIEW: Pippin soars as high-flying journey of discovery

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Naysh Fox stars in the title role.
  • Naysh Fox stars in the title role.

In the late 1960s, around the time Pippin was first conceived, the notion of "finding yourself" had begun to infiltrate the popular imagination. The job that you were expected to hold from graduation until retirement, the dull routine of domesticity, the strictures of the nuclear family — in the minds of many, these came to be regarded as atavistic barriers to self-actualization. Free yourself from them and, now unencumbered by convention, you give yourself the opportunity to discover true fulfillment. Or even greatness.

Although it's largely (and inexplicably) set during the reign of Charlemagne, Pippin's plot—not to mention its songbook—bears the indelible timestamp of the era that gave rise to it. A young boy finishes university, questioning his identity and his place in the world. He ventures off to war in pursuit of glory. He takes part in orgiastic sex in pursuit of pleasure. He overthrows his father, a powerful leader, in pursuit of fairness and justice. Finally, exhausted by the futility of his quest for contentment, he winds up on a country estate with a young widow and her son. He comes to enjoy it, but he can't shake the feeling that he's destined for something extraordinary. After all, the high-flying troupe of players that encircles the action keeps telling him that.

Pippin's ultimate choice for his life runs counter to the troupe's wishes, of course, and puts paid to some of the more hedonistic stereotypes of its period. In that way, it makes for a refreshing homage to simplicity and anonymity, even though developing an appreciation for those qualities takes a lot of contrasting spectacle.

The nationally touring Broadway production of Pippin at the INB Performing Arts Center offers that spectacle in abundance. It has the acrobatics, illusions, ensemble routines and shameless glam for which this show is renowned, complemented by a top-notch and multi-talented cast of young singers, dancers and actors that is hard to fault. Naysh Fox plays a springy, charismatic Pippin who's delightful to watch; Housso Semon is a commanding Leading Player with a rich singing voice and a graceful, sensual execution of the Fosse-inspired choreography.