A small stage makes Mercury Theater's Pippin great | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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A small stage makes Mercury Theater's Pippin great

The young heir's existential culture feels more relatable close-up.

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Even though this highly fictionalized 1972 musical, based on the life of the ne'er-do-well son of the eighth-century warrior king Charlemagne was made for the Broadway stage—where it ran for 1,944 performances from October 23, 1972, to June 12, 1977—it transfers very gracefully to a considerably smaller cabaret space—namely the Venus Cabaret, recently carved out of a former Irish pub by the folks at Mercury Theater. In fact, as revealed in this revival, the show has a sweet intimacy about it that can get lost in the razzle-dazzle of a big production.

On the large stage, the show's protagonist can sometimes feel like an unworthy fool, a mere nonentity, lost in a world of larger-than-life historical figures. On a smaller stage his ongoing existential crisis—he dreams of doing something extraordinary but never manages to, despite his myriad family connections—feels more relatable. The same holds true for Stephen Schwartz's sweet, light, poppy tunes: they don't have to work so hard to fill the room.

Director L. Walter Stearns uses the space well. Large scenes never feel crammed in, and the smaller scenes are more moving than I remember from past, larger productions of this show. Stearns's casting is strong. Koray Tarhan easily wins us over as Pippin. From the moment the story begins we are on his side; his pain is our pain. And even the show's choreography—created on Broadway by the show's legendary director, Bob Fosse—works on the tiny stage, thanks to choreographer Brenda Didier.   v

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