Book by Roger O. Hirson
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Directed by Diane Paulus
Starring Matthew James Thomas, Patina Miller
Terrence Mann, Charlotte d'Amboise,
Rachel Bay Jones and Andrea Martin
The Music Box Theatre
Official Website

Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics and Original Book by
Oscar Hammerstein II
New Book by DouglasCarter Beane
Directed by Mark Brokaw
Starring Laura Osnes, Santino Fontana,
Harriet Harris and Victoria Clark
Broadway Theatre
Official Website

Reviewed by David Spencer

For all the celebrating about how Diane Paulus has wrought this magical transformation upon Pippin, the truth is, and it’s a clever truth for which I give her full marks for being even smarter than people think, she hasn’t changed it all that much.

                        All right, yes, she’s turned the ensemble into a traveling circus troupe, but that’s not such a far stretch from the roving band of players they were to begin with. And maybe it sounds like a bold move for her to have changed the Mephistophelean Leading Player from a man (template set by Ben Vereen in the original) to a woman (Patina Miller), but what Ms. Paulus hasn’t changed is the LP’s fundamental persona, that of the sly, edged enticer. Nor has she changed the ethnicity nor the urban hipness quotient (the LP is still street-smart and black); nor have the keys even changed; Ms. Miller’s belt range covers the same tessitura as Ben Vereen’s high tenor.  (In fact,  re-sexing the Leading Player makes the role much more accommodating to replacements. Ben Vereen's peculiar high tenor dexterity and the performance wattage he fueled it with provided something so idiosyncratic and iconic that even those who could do the role justice were always in his shadow.  The same can be said of the way Ms. Paulus has reconceived the role of Berthe, Pippin's grandmother. If replacing Ben Vereen was difficult, replacing feisty little Irene Ryan was simply impossible, because the genuinely old ladies who can belt out a tune with equal energy, power and vocal dexterity are very nearly impossible to find [in the remounting for television, Martha Raye came close, which was something]. In her circus concept, Ms. Paulus has found a way to present a somewhat younger woman who creates the illusion of being older—an illusion to which the audience grants full, unquestioning complicity—brilliantl realized in the person of Andrea Martin.)

                        Most importantly, Diane Paulus hasn’t changed the attitude of the show. Oh, all right, she’s warmed it up some, allowed a little reinvestigation into how certain roles are played and cast, but not too much, never so much that she strays off the truthful path. But by and large she’s remarkably faithful to the spirit and the execution of Bob Fosse’s original staging, even though she isn’t. That statement makes sense if you know the original production very well (I do; I saw it five times on Broadway, saw a bus and truck Music Fair tour, and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen the video of the production when it was remounted in Canada for television). What Ms. Paulus has done—again, quite amazingly and admirably—is transplant the staging, put it through the prism of her circus concept. Maybe something that happened on the stage floor now happens on a trapeze. Maybe something that happened on a platform happens on a moving wagon, etc. She has even preserved bits of physical business, stuff no director would have known about unless she went back into the archives of that TV taping and Lincoln Center library video preservation to see how it was done.

                        She doesn’t use everything of course, as indeed why should she? But in making her revival’s gestation an active conversation with the original production, she has given herself a wonderful advantage: selectivity. Being unafraid to say to say this works well, I can use that; or that might be made to work better; or this worked then but it won’t work now and what’s our present day equivalent?has made this production less the bold new interpretation that's being trumpeted than a canny second draft for the New Millennium, in which she has additionally filtered out artifacts of the 1972 Zeitgeist and filtered in a 2013 perspective. the authors, still, happily with us and active, have been complicit in this, Roger O. Hirson providing book (and mostly dialogue) revisions tthat sound just the right pitch, and Stephen Schwartz providing lyric rewrites that…well, actually, most of them aren't better or about relevance, they're mostly hindsight potchkying, but they do no harm (though you may wince on occasion in the cause of nostalgia). And, full disclosure, Ms. Paulus does miss a rare beat: The role of Pippin's father, King Charlemagne, performed here by Terrence Mann, seems to have gotten away from her. In paricular, Mr. Mann has introduced a touch of befuddlement, which softens the archetype he's meant to portrayand muddies the comedy he's meant to deliver. But the good news is, that can all be cleaned up. Because the best news is, Pippin is in very healthy shape and very good hands.


Cinderella, on the other hand, doesn't filter, it reboots. Using the original Rodgers and Hammerstein TV score plus some interpolated songs from their catalog, this new version with book by Douglas Carter Beane and direction by Mark Brokaw attempts to tell the story with New Millennium pop culture savvy, including nods to political correctness, reversals of expected plot turns and contemporary conversational idiom. The intention of course is to bring Cinderella's sensibility in sync with Pixar and Dreamworks computer animated feature films; with a possibly unconscious nod to other modern/ancient fantasy franchises like Hercules: The Incredible Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess.

                        To say "it doesn't work" is to discount how much approbation and audience approval the production has garnered; it seeks to hit a populist nerve and by and large it has. And I think that’s because every now and again, the universe hands a creative team a gift box: this one contains a universally known fairy tale and a cherished R&H score from a legendary, but in storytelling style hugely dated, TV special. You can achieve your commercial goal by maintaining enough vigilant competence not to screw it up. It’s a job of carpentry.

                        But I think the cost of building their house as they’ve chosen to, in this case, is a show that might have been smarter, classier, more authentic and less desperate in its need to please—and just as popular. And one that would have been more lasting. The nods to trendiness in this Cinderella will have a shelf life just as subject to aging as the black and white kinescope of the ‘50s-era original.

                        But so it goes. And I can’t begrudge its seeming success, because whatever our adult reactions, pro or con, it’s a family show, catering ultimately to thousands of children, and you never know when or how the theatrical spark is going to ignite in a young mind and change their lives. I know many for whom it was Peter Pan. May the new Cinderella live and be well.

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