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'Pippin' at the Mark Taper Forum: What did the critics think?

January 28, 2009 |  1:23 pm


Deaf West Theatre has been around since 1991, presenting plays for deaf and hearing audiences that feature deaf and hearing actors. When they decided to do their first musical, "Oliver!," many people said, "Huh? A musical with deaf actors?" Then came "Big River." Deaf West performed the musical first in its small theater in North Hollywood, eventually landing at the Mark Taper Forum in 2002 and moving on to Broadway the following year. The combination of singing, speaking and American Sign Language was no longer a concept alien to theatergoers.

Deaf West reunites with Center Theatre Group for "Pippin," Stephen Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson's 1972 musical about Charlemagne's son, Pippin, and his search for his place in the world. Staged by Jeff Calhoun, who also directed "Big River," the musical opened Sunday at the Mark Taper Forum.

What did the critics think?

Pippingallery Charles McNulty of the Los Angeles Times writes: "The production ... gets off to a bit of a shaky start. The ensemble, boasting a skimpily clad chorus, hits one overly emphatic note after another. But once the company eventually calms down, the staging becomes quite seductive with its unostentatious inventiveness and capacity for witty surprise."

Bob Verini of Variety was also mixed, finding less to like: "It falls well short of the company's 'Big River.' ... Some shrewd choices have been made, but others seem underconceived or downright baffling.... The problem isn't two Pippins (one hearing, one deaf), but a dramatic spine that's been halved." (BTW: The photo on Variety's website is from the East West Players' production of "Pippin." Oops!)

Laurence Vittes, writing for the Hollywood Reporter, is pretty clear in his verdict: "Despite the best efforts of the Deaf West Theatre cast and crew, however, this revival ... mostly fizzles."

And in the LA Weekly, an irritated Steven Leigh Morris says: "I felt in this production a creepy, reactionary underpinning that's even out of touch with our new government's position on everybody taking responsibility to pull each other up, collectively. And for this shimmering magic act to close out by cautioning us about the seductive qualities of veneer is a fraud of the first rank. The show is so well done, see it for yourself, and see if you're as annoyed as me."

--Lisa Fung

Credit: Craig Schwartz