Posts Tagged ‘diane paulus’

I took vacation time Thursday afternoon and went with my husband to the American Repertory Theater production of the musical Pippin.

A polished and charming spectacle — with actual circus performers punctuating stages of Charlemagne’s son’s search for extraordinary-ness — it nevertheless failed to move me. Not sure what I was looking for. I had only the vaguest memory of Suzanne playing the part of Pippin’s grandmother in a church youth group production. The words she sang then, “Time to start livin’ ” constituted my favorite song in the A.R.T. production — utterly hilarious.

The Boston Globe lists certain details: “The show, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, book by Roger O. Hirson, [has] direction by ART artistic director Diane Paulus … Playing Pippin [is] British-born actor Matthew James Thomas, who made his Broadway debut as the lead in ‘Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark.’ ”

The cast was tiptop. I liked the Bob Fosse dancing. I don’t mind that it is very stylized, but the whole show felt stylized and distancing. I felt I was always being caught up in the “art” of it and I wanted to be in the story.

The original version of Pippin was directed by Bob Fosse in 1972 and won nine Tony Awards. I think the A.R.T. version would do fine on Broadway, and I doubt most people would agree that the spectacle overwhelms the story. Most of the time it is just a lot of fun.

Photograph of Matthew James Thomas in rehearsal: David l. Ryan/Boston Globe

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We had already bought tickets for the new version of Porgy and Bess at the American Repertory Theater when Stephen Sondheim weighed in with an angry letter to the NY Times. He had not seen the show, but he apparently resented the tone of an article’s quotes from A.R.T. He may have thought director Diane Paulus and writer Suzan-Lori Parks were implying that they were better than the show’s original creators.

After the opening, Ben Brantley of the NY Times raved about Audra McDonald’s Bess while giving a mostly lukewarm review to everything else. Meanwhile, the student D.J. at Emerson College’s radio station kept reading promos for the show and pronouncing Porgy as “Porjy.” (He will always be Porjy to me now).

By the time our matinee rolled around, the day was almost too beautiful to be in a dark theater for three hours, and our initial anticipation had been reduced to mild curiosity.

So I’m happy to say we really liked A.R.T.’s Porgy — pretty much everything about it.

I admit that I am not intimate with the whole score and therefore was not always able to tell when new material had been inserted. (One line, about saving to send the baby to college, did come across with a loud, anachronistic clunk — but now a blog reader tells me it was in the original!) But the beauty of the songs, the dancing, the characters making the best of no-options, the love story! I cried pretty much the whole way through. And I’m still singing.

The only other Porgy and Bess I’d seen was directed by Bobby McFerrin in Minneapolis. It was long and kind of confusing, but I accepted that that’s the way opera often is. The A.R.T. may have presented a rejiggered story that was not true to the original, but it was a story that I could follow.

As I said to my husband on the way out, “Well, it worked for me.”

He said, “Sondheim should rethink his position.”

P.S. Audra McDonald was breathtaking.

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