Metro Weekly

Magic to Do: Pippin and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Reviews)

A Cirque-inspired Pippin at the National and a shopworn Joseph at the KenCen

Sasha Allen as Leading Player and the Cast of the National Touring Production of Pippin - Photo: Terry Shapiro
Sasha Allen as Leading Player and the Cast of the National Touring Production of Pippin – Photo: Terry Shapiro

It’s hard to imagine anyone who wouldn’t find joy in the current revival of Pippin. After all, the show won four Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical, last year — or 41 long years after its only other run on Broadway. Though the revival’s director Diane Paulus moves the action to the circus, the focus is still on the titular prince, son of Charlemagne, leaving no stone unturned in trying to find meaning and happiness in his life.

That said, the show is too self-referential for my tastes, regularly breaking the fourth wall by talking to the audience about what we’re seeing and especially what’s yet to come. The device is meant to be humorous — and it is humorous, up to a point — but it also seems a way to pad out as well as deflect attention from what is a rather light book by Roger O. Hirson. Just get to the fire and fireworks already, you might want to call out, especially as the long, largely inconsequential first act drags on. However, it does end with arguably the show’s highlight: Pippin’s visit to his wild but wise grandmother Berthe. Lucie Arnaz — daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz — is definitely her mother’s daughter in the touring production, hamming it up in her brief but showstopping “No Time At All,” as sad when the curtain falls on her as the audience is. Arnaz is more convincing and captivating in the role than the great Andrea Martin was in her Tony-winning performance last year.

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Kyle Dean Massey also bests the revival’s original Pippin, Matthew James Thomas. You can’t help but root for this charismatic character — even in the early scenes, when he displays a bit of unbecoming arrogance. Meanwhile, the 1972 Broadway show’s Pippin, John Rubenstein, returns as Pippin’s father, hamming up his role almost as much as Arnaz in hers. If Sasha Allen, who you may know as a 2013 finalist on NBC’s The Voice, doesn’t quite have the triple-threat stage presence that the Tony-winning Patina Miller did as the show’s narrating Leading Player, she will nonetheless impress you with her performance and particularly her strong vocal command. She is a worthwhile successor to a role that originated as a part for a man to play — Ben Vereen, no less.

All in all, you’ll leave the National Theatre glowing at the magic displayed and the meaning imparted on stage — from Chet Walker’s Bob Fosse-influenced choreography, to the aerial stunts by former Cirque du Soleil artist Gypsy Snider, to the principles of savoring the moment and finding a little magic in the mundane.

YOU’LL LEAVE THE KENNEDY CENTER a little less impressed after seeing the latest revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Even if you don’t know this early-70s Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice show from your high school musical days, you’ll still see it as a time-warped kitchen-sink affair, best, if not only, appreciated by younger members of the audience. It’s a Webber-Rice standard through and through — full of cheesy antics and melodies, which are repeated over and over and slopped together in overeager genre-hopping fashion, jumping from country to French chanson, or disco to calypso — often within the same song.

This particular revival is built for our reality-TV age, starring two alum from the American Idol franchise — the husband-and-wife duo of Ace Young and Diana DeGarmo. Young makes for an attractive but underwhelming, nasally voiced Joseph, while DeGarmo confirms why she came so close to winning Idol a decade ago — and surely would have, if not for the vocal juggernaut that is Fantasia Barrino. DeGarmo makes for a clear-voiced, charismatic Narrator who doesn’t stumble once in a role that is harder than she makes it look. Andy Blankenbuehler directs and choreographs this production of the shopworn musical, focused on the Biblical story about Jacob and his many sons, including his favored Joseph, whom he festoons in a magical coat of many colors, an act that fans the jealous flames of his brothers until they all but commit fratricide. The namesake coat is rendered here by costume designer Jennifer Caprio as hideous as all get-out; even the average grandmother could make a more fetching quilted version. (At least you’ll be easily and happily distracted by Daniel Brodie’s vivid video and light projections.)

Then again, the gaudiness of Caprio’s coat matches the gaudiness of the overall show. It’s a spectacle that in the end you won’t hate and might even like — but few, even those nostalgic for “Those Canaan Days,” will want to see it again.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat () runs to Sunday, Jan. 4, at the Kennedy Center Opera House. Tickets are $25 to $155. Call 202-467-4600 or visit kennedy-center.org.

Pippin () runs to Sunday, Jan. 4, at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Tickets are $58 to $153. Call 202-628-6161 or visit thenationaldc.org.

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