I am a great supporter of gratuitous hetero- and homoerotica — the more irrelevant to the plot the better. When prime beefcake crosses the stage sporting a thong and white silky ponytail for no apparent reason the effect is two fold. We cannot for the life us imagine what the costume designer was thinking and we don’t care because the effect is crotchwarming — uh, heartwarming — a welcome relief from an otherwise lacklustre production.
Pippin, the 1970s smash hit antiwar musical currently playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, is a hodgepodge of anticlimactic effects and proficient performances bogged down by slow musical arrangements. Originating at the Goodspeed Opera House (Connecticut) this production began a national tour at the end of September. Wowing audiences in the ’70s with Ben Vereen in the role of the Leading Player, Pippin continues to strike a chord with its dark, playful commentary on the science of war.
The first number, “Magic To Do,” is an early warning that what follows will fail to deliver all the attempted bells and whistles. There are some exceptional moments, and beefcake abounds in numbers such as “Spread A Little Sunshine.” Here Shannon Lewis as Fastrada delivers a powerful and engaging song hemmed in, however, by static blocking and less-than-energetic, faintly Fosse-esque choreography by Mark Dendy. A very clever daisy chain sequence during this number represents one of many engaging homoerotic moments as muscular male flowers fall into each other’s laps as they leave the stage.
Mickey Dolenz of Monkees fame takes on the role of Charlemagne and has some comical and effective moments. But like much of the cast he seems restricted by unfortunate direction and dawdling, unimaginative musical arrangements. But there are some beautiful stage moments. The evening’s brightest spot occurs when Teal Wicks as Catherine sings “Love Song” against a simple backdrop. This simplicity is what the production might have focussed on rather than a mammoth, cumbersome steel set that, though impressive, is both underused and overexposed.
In the final scene Pippin and his newfound family are stripped to their underwear, giving the scene a very odd sexual quality that is as disconcerting as it is visually stunning.
Jason Blaine as Theo takes centre stage at the end of the show and, in a brief reprise of the song “Corner Of The Sky,” powerfully punctuates a circular musical that has lured us away from war and back again in one fell swoop.
Instances of intense erotica, although vastly entertaining, ultimately render this production a strange collision: Circle Jerque du Soleil meets a musical about Charlemagne and the impetuous escapades of his eldest son Pippin.
Recommended for audiences with a taste for gratuitous sexual titillation that takes far too long to — uh — climax.