Ever go to a buffet where the only thing to eat is dessert? Sounds appealing. But by the time you’ve stuffed yourself on empty calories and come down from a sugar high, you’re hankering for a sub — something, well, substantial.
“Pippin” is a groaning board of desserts, and for the first act, it is worth the money you have to spend on a night out. Fill up on those colorful costumes; gorge on the acrobatics; smack your lips over the dancing; savor the stage effects; and tickle your belly with sugary pop ’70s tunes (music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz).
But Act II. Except for the funny performance of Kristine Reese as Catherine, it’s more of the same, and you begin to look around for that sandwich.
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectaday
WHEN: Through May 31
HOW MUCH: $80-$20
MORE INFO: 346-6204, or proctors.org
Relying on metatheatricality of the most extreme order, writer Roger O. Hirson can’t quite get a story line going that satisfies, that says, “This is what it all adds up to.” I wanted a little brain food, but it wasn’t on the menu.
Metatheatricality? It’s a play that knows it’s a play, a play within a play, a play that breaks the fourth wall. Great fun, and right away we have a Leading Player (the brilliant Lisa Karlin at Tuesday’s performance) of a theater troupe talking to us (shades of the Emcee in “Cabaret”!) about the life of Pippin (Sam Lips), the son of Charlemagne (John Rubinstein) and the grandson of Berthe (Adrienne Barbeau).
The Leading Player is aided in the storytelling by an ensemble of singers, dancers (a la Bob Fosse, who directed “Pippin” in 1973), and circus performers — all rolled (literally, sometimes) — into one.
Back up. I forgot to say that the minute the audience saw Rubinstein and Barbeau, huzzahs erupted. We knew that Rubinstein was the original Pippin! We loved Barbeau on “Maude”! More metatheatricality.
But the good news is that these two older pros are completely in the moment. He’s a smashing Charlemagne, all giggles, eye-winks, and noble articulation (listen to his patter song, “War Is a Science”); and Barbeau’s comic timing is drop-dead gorgeous, her singing strong and smart (“No Time at All”), her acrobatics impressive, and her interaction with the audience joyous.
This duo alone is worth the ticket price. But hold on: people you may never have heard of — like Callan Bergmann as Lewis, Sabrina Harper as Fastrada, and young Lucas Schultz as Theo — deliver performances you won’t soon forget. And the orchestra, led by Ryan Cantwell, and the ensemble, under Diane Paulus’ direction, are always on their game.
As for Lips — the star of this coming-of-age story — it’s to his credit that he doesn’t get lost in the spectacle, and that’s because he continues to reveal one talent after another as the evening goes on: charming stage presence, lithe voice, dramatic heft here and there, and athleticism in keeping with the whole shebang.
Yeah, we loved it, and then we couldn’t wait for it to be over. The Leading Player becomes kind of snarky at the end, to what purpose I don’t know; and when they strike the set and turn out the lights, I’ve had enough metatheatricality to last me for a while.
But that tasty Act I !