Theater Review: Andrea Martin Flies High In ‘Pippin’

Andrea Martin as Berthe and Matthew James Thomas as the title character in 'Pippin'


BY ARAM KOUYOUMDJIAN

The word “showstopper” is often used loosely and, as a result, its meaning has come to be diluted. A true “showstopper” is a moment in a play or a musical so wondrous that the prolonged applause it inspires actually brings the performance to a halt. It is a remarkable feat of theater that Andrea Martin achieves in the revival of “Pippin” that originated on Broadway and is playing at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood through November 9.

“Pippin” is set in the Middle-Ages but tinged by the kitschy 1970s – the decade of its premiere. Named for the eldest son of the emperor Charlemagne, it depicts the younger royal’s search for a life of meaning and fulfillment. His adventures are myriad, as recounted by an enigmatic performance troupe that re-enacts the journey.

Conceived as a big top circus by director Diane Paulus, this incarnation of “Pippin” features acrobatics in the style of Cirque du Soleil; the staging lends visual spectacle to a show that’s long in duration and short on memorable songs.

Martin plays Pippin’s grandmother, Berthe, a supporting role that affords her relatively little stage time. Proving the old adage that “there are no small roles . . .,” however, Martin turns a key scene she shares with Pippin – during which she imparts to him some sage advice – into a knockout. She masterfully balances the scene’s poignancy and humor, and when she invites the audience to sing along to her rendition of “No Time at All,” she riotously admonishes them to stick to the chorus and leave the verses to her. Lithe and nimble, the 67-year-old Martin then ascends a trapeze and continues singing even while dangling in mid-air and, at one point, hanging upside down.

It’s easy to see why Martin won a Tony Award for her performance (her second). While she flies high, she lifts the audience with her.

Aram Kouyoumdjian is the winner of Elly Awards for both playwriting (“The Farewells”) and directing (“Three Hotels”). His latest work is “49 States.”

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