Circus Acts, Razzle-Dazzle and a Bit of Raunch: 'Pippin' at the Paramount Theatre

This revival visits timeless questions about what’s really important in life.

Cast of Pippin. Photo credit: Joan Marcus

The bottom line

The multiple 2013 Tony-award winning Broadway show Pippin, playing at the Paramount through Aug. 23 offers plenty to keep kids’ eyeballs glued to the stage, including a circus-inspired set, Technicolor costumes, acrobatics, trapeze artists, great score (by the same composer who brought you Wicked) and razzle-dazzle dance. But be prepared for some raunchiness, violence (mostly comic-laced) and profanity.


Pippin tells the tale of a young prince, son of medieval King Charlemagne, on his allegorical quest after university to find fulfillment in life. Led by the Leading Player (a riveting Gabrielle McClinton, who also played the role on Broadway), a troupe of strolling players invite the audience to watch their magic unfold as they tell Pippin’s story, encouraging the prince to try his hand at war, politics and the joys of the flesh (aka sex.) Eventually, disgusted with war and an unjust society under Charlemagne, Pippin launches a revolution against his father and assassinates him. But Pippin quickly realizes being king isn’t for him and begs the Leading Player to bring his father back to life — and to the throne.

Distraught after his seeming failure to find a greater purpose in his life, Pippin is encouraged by the Leading Player and her retinue to leave his mark by leaping from a trapeze to a spectacular fiery death.

But, ultimately, Pippin abandons the Leading Player and her compatriots’ promise of magic and finds happiness in a relatively simple life with a lovely widow and her young son.

John Rubinstein (Charles) and the cast of Pippin. Photo credit: Joan Marcus

While this all sounds pretty heavy, the action is leavened with plenty of humor and eye winking. My 12-year-old daughter cracked up throughout the Keystone Cop-like battle scenes, when Pippin tries (lamely) to be a star soldier fighting the Visigoths. Case in point, one Visigoth gets his head chopped off, but rather than gasps come guffaws as his body comically keeps on going and the Leading Player pretends to putt the head with her cane. King Charles, played by the actor who originated the title role in the original 1972 Broadway show (John Rubinstein), is a kook. Pippin’s vain stepbrother, Louis is hilarious, as is his vamping stepmother and randy grandmother.

The dancing — faithful to the jazz-vaudeville style of the original show’s famed choreographer, Bob Fosse — and acrobatic spectacles (one memorable scene features actors diving over a series of oversize exercise balls) are top notch. Actors frequently address the audience directly and participation is encouraged; Pippin’s young-at-heart grandma directs the audience to sing along to “No Time at All” as the lyrics are projected onto the stage.

The original 1972 production was a starker show and decidedly a product of the turbulent political and social times. This revival visits timeless questions about what’s really important in life.

Should you take your kid?

Pippin is officially recommended for children age 8 and older, though I'd personally suggest a bit older (10 and up). The show runs 2 hours and 35 minutes with one 20-minute intermission.

The fact that Pippin’s entourage encourage him to commit suicide (he doesn’t) to leave his mark didn’t upset my preteen daughter in the slightest. But in Scene 4 “The Flesh,” the S&M-like costumes, cages and writhing bodies elicited a definitive: “That’s nasty.” The show has plenty of sexual innuendo (much of it comic, like the circus strongman walking off the stage with an acrobat dangling like an overgrown member between his legs). There’s some mild profanity (no F-bombs). And the ending is “a little freaky” per my preteen. Once it becomes clear Pippin has decided to depart the magical world for a real world future with the widow, Catherine, and her son, the Leading Player declares the show over, dismisses the ensemble, and strips the stage of set, costumes, and lighting, leaving just Pippin, Catherine and the boy.

Tip: Arrive early to nab a booster seat. Aisle seats will make your intermission bolt to the always-crowded bathrooms easier. Make sure to take your kids to peek into the orchestra pit before the show starts or at intermission.

If you go …

When: Pippin plays through Aug. 23. See all show times here.

Where: The Paramount Theatre, Seattle.

Tickets: $25 and up. Buy online from STG Presents.

Snacks and eats: There is one 15-minute intermission with some snacks available in the lobby before the performance and at intermission (though it is hard to fit in a bathroom break and snag a snack). Your best bet is to grab food before the show or avoid the lines and pre-order your snack for intermission.

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