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Pippin

What does it mean to live an extraordinary life? asks Pippin. And so his journey begins as he says good-bye to his life as a scholar and returns home to importune his father, the king, to teach him to be a soldier—the first of many adventures, including deep dives into promiscuity, revolution, art, and religion.

Sasha Allen as Leading Player
Sasha Allen as Leading Player
Photo: Terry Shapiro
With a 2013 Tony for Best Musical Revival to its credit, Pippin begins its national tour in Denver. While Pippin's quest remains much the same as in the original, director Diane Paulus (Hair 2013 revival) reconceives the acting troupe as daredevil circus performers (kudos to Les 7 doigts de la main for this), upping the stakes and the entertainment value considerably, as well as significantly changing the ending and altering the gender of the Leading Player (for which Ben Vereen won Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical in the 1973 original).

(Left to right) John Rubinstein as Charles and Matthew James Thomas as Pippin
(L to R) John Rubinstein as Charles
and Matthew James Thomas as Pippin
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Although the names of Pippin and his father, Charles (Charlemagne) are taken from medieval European history (the Carolingian Empire [Germany, France, and northern Italy] of the 8th and 9th centuries), the story is almost entirely fictional, first conceived and developed by Stephen Schwartz as a teenager and twenty-something, until Bob Fosse reshaped it, eventually garnering five Tonys.

The original rock score stands up well to the passage of time, the most memorable songs being: "Corner of the Sky" (Pippin),covered by The Jackson 5 (1972) and by Dusty Springfield and Petula Clark, whose vocals were recorded more than thirty years apart, on Clark's 2007 CD "Duets; and "I Guess I'll Miss the Man" (Catherine), covered by the Supremes (1972).

Sasha Allen dazzles as Leading Player, with soaring vocals and ringmaster authority. Matthew James Thomas, who created the role of Pippin for the 2013 Broadway production, delights with his range and strength in the higher octaves. John Rubinstein, who originated the role of Pippin for the 1972 premiere, returns as a crafty and nuanced Charles.

Sabrina Harper as Fastrada
Sabrina Harper as Fastrada
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Sabrina Harper tears it up in Fastrada's signature number "Spread a Little Sunshine," as she strategizes to put her son, Lewis (Callan Bergmann) on the throne. Kristine Reese is heart-winning as Catherine, who teaches Pippin that love is the pinnacle of extraordinary. Lucie Arnaz stops the show as Berthe, Pippin's randy and savvy granny.

And then there's Chet Walker's choreography in the style of Bob Fosse's original work, executed to perfection.

Kristine Reese as Catherine
Kristine Reese as Catherine
Photo: Terry Shapiro
While the most common response to the existential questions raised by Roger O. Hirson's book is to see the ordinary and the extraordinary as two separate states, because on the surface that is Pippin's lesson, we hope that for each of us there is a sequel in which the two are interwoven, much as we find in the magical realism of the late, great Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Whether we are paupers or kings, laborers or stars, we each come into this world with a special gift. It's our raison d'etre to discover that gift, develop it, and share it with others.

Denver Center Attraction's presentation of Pippin runs through September 20th. For tickets: 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org.

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