Pippin | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Pippin, Boxer Rebellion Theater. "Gotta find my corner of the sky" is the stated mission of young prince Pippin, a boy coming into manhood in this tale woven loosely around the family of eighth-century emperor Charlemagne. A steamy opening number ("Magic to Do"), narrated by the omniscient Leading Player (Jamie Axtell), entices with promises of "battles, barbarous and bloody" and "romance, sex presented pastorally," suggesting that this is to be quite the magical mystery tour as Pippin (Scott J. Sumerak) experiments with war, sex, domesticity, and deadly politics.

Stephen Schwartz's songs and Roger O. Hirson's book provide all the humor, wisdom, and character analysis such a myth could ever need. And seeing the story played out and hearing the music performed by an ensemble as robust as this one is satisfying. Delivering on the show's promise of magic, however, requires some visual spectacle, which this production decidedly lacks. The Boxer Rebellion's black box usually accommodates its shows very well, but in this case almost all the technical elements look like ill-conceived afterthoughts. True, budget and other constraints are understood with smaller companies. And the designers have done some clever things, like mixing medieval warriors with contemporary soldiers. But how do you explain draping the whole set in raggedy burlap or outfitting the narrator in something from a barbershop quartet? That's not to mention choreography that overcrowds the stage and strips ballads like the erotically charged "With You" of any emotional subtlety. Hardly magical.

--Kim Wilson

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