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THEATER REVIEW

A `Pippin' revival that's not completely revived

There are fun ideas in a touring production, but the energy is lacking.

January 04, 2007|Daryl H. Miller | Times Staff Writer

WHEN "Pippin" emerged on Broadway in 1972, it had at least two factors working like gangbusters to put it across: a fresh, folky score by Stephen Schwartz and a Bob Fosse staging so overtly sexy that audiences needed a smoke afterward.

A restaging by Goodspeed Musicals aims to recapture those qualities and discover new ones besides, but in the touring production's only West Coast stop, at the Orange County Performing Arts Center's Segerstrom Hall, it's like a neon marquee harnessed to a 6-volt battery: It just can't draw enough juice to flicker to life.

When introduced five months ago at Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Conn., this production, directed by Gabriel Barre, distinguished itself on a couple of points: the casting of a truly fresh-faced actor, Joshua Park, to play the show's young, searching-for-himself hero, and the inclusion of flashy magic tricks and a few Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatics to lend mystery and wonder to the proceedings.

The production also incorporated a number of tweaks made through the years to the officially licensed Roger O. Hirson book and Schwartz music and lyrics, including a twist at the end that poises the search-for-fulfillment theme to be repeated by the next generation. Los Angeles witnessed most of these changes when Reprise! presented the show two years ago.

Of course, presentations of "Pippin" nowadays also come with a built-in curiosity factor: Can foreshadowing of Schwartz's "Wicked" score be heard here? The answer is: yes and no. "Pippin" sounds very much of its time. It's joyously infectious, in a James Taylor-ish way, rather than exploding with the contemporary Broadway-pop pyrotechnics of the 2003 "Wizard of Oz" prequel.

The production begins with a magic trick. Stagehands, at work on a deceptively bare-looking stage, stack four traveling trunks atop a handcart, creating a magic cabinet, from which emerges the show's Leading Player (Andre Ward), dressed in a flashy, red-velvet tailcoat.

Well, that's fun, we think at first. Yet the show's energy barely reaches the lip of the stage, let alone extending beyond.

The rest of the players -- exercise-sculpted, in barely there costumes -- emerge from the shadows, soon followed by the central character: Pippin (Park), firstborn son of Charles I, 8th century king of the Franks, known as Charlemagne.

When excitable, mop-topped Park -- dressed in what looks like a medieval muscle shirt and jeans -- launches into "Corner of the Sky," the show's standout song, another problem presents itself: The actor doesn't possess a strong singing voice, and what's there refuses to hit the right pitches.

Similarly underwhelming is star-billed though supporting-player-cast former Monkee Micky Dolenz, as Pippin's kingly father. The part is meant to be ripely overplayed, but Dolenz is more declamatory, holding himself stiffly and swallowing his words.

Ward, as the Mephistophelean Leading Player, musters a bit more wattage, injecting some funk into his singing and a bit of Eddie Murphy-like sass into his comedy.

Fun ideas abound: a war map revealed to be a game of hangman, for instance, or the Cirque du Soleil-like dangling-from-drapery acrobatics that initiate the show's infamous orgy sequence. And the production experiences a couple of short bursts of life in the second act, as Park genuinely sparks with Teal Wicks' showgirl-sleek Catherine, introduced as Pippin's love interest, and as another magic trick and some appropriate over-emoting from Park build toward the show's much-promised climax.

But for all the magic, there's just not enough magic.

daryl.miller@latimes.com

*

`Pippin'

Where: Orange County Performing Arts Center, Segerstrom Hall, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: 7:30 p.m. today and Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday

Ends: Sunday

Price: $15 to $65

Info: (714) 556-2787 or www.ocpac.org

Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes

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