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‘Pippin’ is odd in all the right ways

January 14, 2017

There certainly is something a little trippy about “Pippin,” playing this weekend at the INB Performing Arts Center.

Trippy in a good way. The touring production is fun and colorful, with lot of eye candy to keep you engaged, and with songs performed well by a host of talented performers. It’s a weird show, but sometimes weird is just what you need.

This musical within a musical – a 2013 revival of a 1972 production directed by the legendary Bob Fosse – centers on a performing troupe telling the story of Pippin, the eldest son of Charles (aka the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne). He’s on a quest for meaning in his life, so he embarks on a series of explorations: of war, of the flesh, of glory. Lest you think that all sounds a little high-brow, relax. Helping tell Pippin’s story is a troupe of cirque-style performers who dangle from the ceilings, spin hoops, juggle fire and perform other acrobatic feats.

The troupe is headed by the Leading Player (Housso Semon). She is very much the ringleader, giving orders and issuing stage direction midperformance to her actors. She promises her audiences magic and a finale they’ll remember forever. Semon is a natural in this role, and she lends her rich voice to songs such as “Glory,” “On the Right Track” and “Simple Joys.” As Pippin, Naysh Fox displays a fine voice and nice comedic timing.

Subtlety is not a trait in “Pippin.” There are frequent moments when actors break the fourth wall and talk to the audience. At one point, King Charles rides off stage on a Razor scooter, and a clown pedals through on a comically tiny bicycle. Berthe (Emilia M. Brown), Pippin’s grandmother, leads the crowd through a singalong of “No Time At All.” And all of the eye-popping acrobatics keep audiences constantly entertained.

“With You,” in which Pippin discovers women, starts off sweetly and comically. It then switches gears into a burlesque scene, as the Leading Player, dressed in dominatrix garb, comes riding on stage atop a cage containing writhing dancers. It’s wild, sexy and a lot of fun.

Also fun is “Spread a Little Sunshine,” performed by Fastrada (Erica Lee Cianciulli), Pippin’s scheming, red-headed stepmother. The sweetest moment comes in “Love Song,” as Catherine (Savannah Sprinkle) tries to persuade Pippin of the joys of the ordinary.

The revival, which won four Tony Awards, was choreographed by Chet Walker “in the style of Bob Fosse.” Even for those with only a cursory knowledge of Fosse’s style – say from seeing the films “Cabaret” and “All That Jazz” – it’s clear that Walker knows his Bob Fosse. The show is very contemporary with its acrobatics, but also seems very much of the 1970s.

“Pippin” is bright and cheerful, funny and energetic, and a little odd. And on a cold and dark winter’s weekend, it might add a little light to your night.