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Pippin (2013)

PIPPIN Matthew James Thomas
Image credit: Joan Marcus
PIPPIN Matthew James Thomas
EW's GRADE
A

Details Opening Date: Apr 25, 2013; Lead Performances: Patina Miller and Matthew James Thomas; Writers: Roger O. Hirson, Stephen Schwartz; Director: Diane Paulus; Genres: Musical, Revival

There was always something a little corny about Pippin. The original 1972 musical boasted an ebullient pop score by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked), a breakout star turn by Ben Vereen as the emceelike Leading Player, and distinctively Fossean choreography by Bob Fosse. It was the quintessential ''jazz hands'' show, with an inherent theatricality born from its premise: A troupe pulls into town to tell a simple allegory about a young medieval prince and his search for life's meaning.

But director Diane Paulus, who reinvigorated the 1967 gem Hair as a nostalgia-free celebration of youthful idealism, has also found a way to freshen up this staple of high school and community theaters. The secret: doubling down on the showmanship. Since the musical opens with a song called ''Magic to Do,'' she stuffs the production not only with onstage illusions but with eye-popping contributions by the Montreal-based 7 Fingers circus company. It's amazing how Chet Walker's Fosse-inspired choreography blends seamlessly with the hand-walking, knife-throwing, backflipping, human-jump-roping antics of the enviably limber cast.

The tone is set by Patina Miller (Sister Act), who brings a feline slinkiness to the Leading Player that can turn outright catty when the troupe seems to stray too far from the supposed script. Matthew James Thomas (Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark) displays a bashful, aw-shucks charm in the title role, and Charlotte D'Amboise vamps playfully as his scheming stepmom. But the unlikely showstopper is 66-year-old SCTV alum Andrea Martin, who takes to the trapeze to belt out her grandmotherly carpe-diem anthem ''No Time at All.'' Dangling high above the stage, she embodies this utterly delightful revival's big-top message: No matter our age, we need never outgrow the capacity for wonder. Jazz hands, though, are strictly optional. A

(Tickets: Telecharge.com or 800-432-7250)

Originally posted Apr 23, 2013