PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Pippin—Make That 'Big-Top Pippin'

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26 Apr 2013

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A Brit by birth (although you'll not catch him sounding like one on stage), Matthew James Thomas almost makes his Broadway debut in the awesomely tasking title role—"almost" because he comes to Pippin from Wednesday and Saturday afternoon flights as the alternate Spider-Man. "I've traded two shows a week there for eight shows a week here," he said. He actually missed flying, too: "Flying never gets boring, but Pippin keeps me pretty busy. Being surrounded by these people is a daily, exciting journey, and it just continues—the madness continues."

He's not even on stage for his favorite moment—the pure Fosse extant of the "Mansion Trio," which comes out of nowhere during the "Glory" passage of the show. Inevitably, it brings audience-recognition applause. (A minute of it constituted the first Broadway advertisement ever to run on television.)

"I actually love being backstage for 'Glory' because I think the score is just incredible," Thomas remarked. "Larry Hochman, the orchestrator, and Stephen Schwartz—I like the work they've done of this score—modernize it but keep it completely true to what it was. I also have to say the incredible musicians just make this score alive in a way that I definitely didn't feel with the first version of the show. And I'm happy to say that because I feel like what's happening musically in this show is just so thrilling. To ride on them on the stage is an incredible privilege."

Making his unqualified and unconditional Broadway bow is his pooch, Porridge, who paddles on stage and, quickly, off, representing trained dog acts in the circus.

Also Broadway-debuting in the show are Andrew Cekala as Pippin's stepson, Theo, and Erik Altemus as Pippin's rivaling stepbrother. "I thought I'd be more nervous than I was," Altemus happily reported. "It was actually nice to enjoy and take it in."

Both newbies are featured actors blending in with the acrobats. "I wish to be an acrobat sometimes," Altemus admitted. "I'm in awe of what they do, and I've tried my best to take what I can from them, and, hopefully, I will continue to do that."

Cekala has the extra edge of performing a scene that was never done before on Broadway—"the Schwartz ending," which Fosse cut from the original production.

His mom in the show, Rachel Bay Jones, plays her part with the comic vocal curlicue of Carol Kane. "I love the fact that Catherine is a kind of mess," she said. "She shows up late. She bumbles things—but she ultimately, in her outsider role, defines the heart of the play—the thing that all of us can relate to. She's so imperfect, and, of course, so am I—so I get to bring all of my crazy imperfections into her world."

And if you listen closely, you may hear a hint of Gwen Verdon's voice in Charlotte d'Amboise's Fastrada, Pippin's sex-happy stepmon (clearly a Verdon kind of role, just too small for a star of her stature). Notably, d'Amboise makes you forget the brevity of the part with her dynamic razzle-dazzle dance, "Spread a Little Sunshine."


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