Friday, February 20, 2009

Glory, Glory: Pippin at the Mark Taper Forum

In 2003, Center Theatre Group and Deaf West Theatre's production of Big River with hearing-impaired and hearing actors transferred from Los Angeles to Broadway, and one hopes that their production of Pippin, at the Mark Taper Forum through March 15, will have a similar fate. There hasn't been a revival of Pippin on Broadway since its original production in 1972 and this refreshing take suggests that it might be time (with a few minor tweaks).

In the show, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Roger O. Hirson, the "players" are performing the story of Pippin, the son of King Charlemagne (his name has been updated to Charles), trying to find his purpose. In this production, directed and choreographed by Jeff Calhoun, some of the characters are played by a single actor, who sings and signs, while others are played by a hearing-impaired actor and voiced by a hearing actor. Only Pippin is double cast, and this is where the production works best. Tyrone Giordano is first presented as our Pippin for the night, but when he starts to sign, Ty Taylor as the Leading Player brings out Michael Arden to provide his voice. Pippin is a character struggling with his identity, and the two actors play different sides of his personality, often at odds with each other. Giordano and Arden work very well together and Arden's lovely voice combined with Giordano's charm and innocence make for a likable leading man.

Hands are obviously very important to a show where everything is signed, and hands appear from the stage at various points in the show. During the song "With You," when Pippin explores sex, the two Pippins are first seduced by these hands, then they make their way to a bed, where men and women appear and disappear through the sheets in one of the best, and most seductive, moments of the show.

Spoilers are to follow, so if you're not familiar with the story, you may want to stop reading. At the end of the show, Pippin veers from the script and chooses love instead of the grand finale. He is stripped of his clothes, make-up, all the "magic." What makes this moment all the more powerful is when Arden is taken away from him as well, so he is left with no voice. Who knew that even in moments of silence, a musical could be so powerful.

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