Thursday, April 30, 2015

A High Watermark So Far for "Marvel's Avengers"


“Avengers” Big, Bombastic and Very Funny

By Skip Sheffield

It’s big, it’s busy, it’s bombastic and it doesn’t make a lick of sense, but “Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron” is wryly funny, eye-poppingly visual and always entertaining. Most of the characters from the 2012 launch are back, as well as director Josh Whedon, who goes back to Stan Lee’s original 1963 comic for his script.
Marvel fanboys treat the original comics like the Holy Grail. Not me. I never read them as a kid and I don’t much care now. But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the creativity and pure entertainment value of these big-screen adventures. As in the first one, “Avengers” remains anchored by Robert Downey, Jr.’s fabulously rich, devastatingly deadpan-witty inventor Tony Stark, who hops into his self-designed, almost invulnerable Iron Man suit of armor in times of trouble.
Trouble is afoot once again as Stark and his cohorts Chris Hemsworth/Thor; Mark Ruffalo/Bruce Banner/The Hulk; Steve Rogers/Captain America, Scarlett Johansson/Natasha Romanoff and Jeremy Renner/Hawkeye get word that some sinister character named Baron von Strucker has created a new force called Ultron (voiced by James Spader), bent on nothing less than the extinction of the human race.
The Marvel gang’ s “dirty half-dozen” members of S.H.I.E.L.D. had gone dormant after the first adventure, but now Tony Stark feels it is time to reactivate the team to save the world.
So yeah, this is another save-the-world story, but Whedon’s tech crew has lavished attention to visual details, beautifully blending live action with computer-generated images. This is especially effective in the transformation of mild-mannered Bruce Banner (Ruffalo) into The Hulk. A new plot element is the budding romance between Scarlett Johansson’s husky-voiced Natasha and Bruce Banner and his huge, mute alter ego whom Natasha calls “big guy.” Jeremy Renner gets more screen time as the hilariously self-deprecating Hawkeye, who laments all he has is a bow and arrow to fight the forces of evil. Chris Hemsworth is gently ribbed for his gorgeousness as Thor, and we learn just how heavy that hammer is.
Two new characters are “The Twins:” Pietro Maximoff, aka Quicksilver (Aaron-Taylor Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), aka Scarlett Witch. Another potential good guy is the red robot Vision (voiced by Paul Bettany, who did bad guy Loki in the first one). When S.H.I.E.L.D. Captain Nick Fury (Samuel A. Jackson) reappears to take the situation in hand, all the good guys enter in an uneasy alliance and you just know there will be a battle royale.

I have read there are already two more segments planned in this never-ending story, but Josh Whedon has sworn this is his last. So for now, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is the high water mark of an epic cinematic fantasy.

Monday, April 27, 2015

"24 Days" a Dire Warning


“24 Days” a Grim True Story

By Skip Sheffield

Sadly, the gripping hostage drama “24 Days,” playing Living Room Theaters, is based on a true story.
If you watch this Algerian-French production to the end you will know why I say “sadly.”
“24 Days,” directed by Alexandre Arcady, is based on a book by Ruth Halimi, mother of Ilan Halimi, kidnapped in 2006 at age 23 in downtown Paris.
Ilan was lured into an ambush by a pretty young woman. His captors demanded a ransom of 450,000 Euros; an impossible sum for Illan’s parents.
The kidnappers, a gang of 25 Barbarians let by Youssouf Fofana (Tony Harrison), an obnoxious, anti-Semitic Islamic extremist from Africa’s Ivory Coast, were convinced that Ilan’s family was rich, simply because they were Jewish.
That is only one of the anti-Semitic stereotypes depicted in this story. Ilan’s parents are in fact divorced and estranged. Mother Ruth (Zabou Breitman) is increasingly desperate and emotional. Father Didier (Pascal Elbe) is willing to go into debt for all he has to secure his son’s release.
The gang doesn’t care about religion or ideology as much as it does about money. They are extortionists pure and simple, and sadists for the cruelty and torture they impose upon helpless Ilan.

“24 Days” is a thoroughly unpleasant film, though unfortunately the mindset of the criminals portrayed, is quite accurate. If anything the precarious situation pitting nihilistic, murderous Islamic radicals against the rest of civilization has only worsened since 2006. Yes the French police could have done more, but against an enemy this terrible, there is no rational defense.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Ageless Age of Adeline


Blake Lively Charms as “Adeline”

By Skip Sheffield

Blake Lively is a special, interesting, unconventionally beautiful actress, facial imperfections and all. She carries the considerable burden of disbelief as the title character in the time-tripping romance “Age of Adeline.” The age specifically is 29. Shortly after the accidental death of her husband, Adeline Bowman is in a car accident that sends her car into freezing waters, which essentially puts her in a state of suspended animation. During a rare Sonoma County snowstorm, a bolt of lightning zaps her submerged car and acts as a defibrillator to get her heart beating again. As a side effect she is frozen at that moment in time.
As Dorian Gray and Benjamin Button previously learned, being ageless has its drawbacks. Born in San Francisco in 1908, we see Adeline pulled over by cops, thinking she has a fake driver’s license because her age lists her as 45. Adeline wiggles out of the squad car and goes on the lam, essentially for the rest of her life, changing her identity and address every ten years or so.
Because her daughter Flemming ages normally, once she hits college age Adeline sees less and less of her due to the obvious age difference. As the story progresses to the current day, Flemming is played by Ellen Burstyn, whose Flemming  is considering assisted living.
Another casualty of her condition is any close romantic relationship. Adaline’s resolve is tested to the limit by Ellis Jones (Dutch actor Michiel Huisman); a wealthy, persistent young man who pursues Adeline like a lovesick schoolboy- if a schoolboy had a limitless budget.
Pointing out logical absurdities makes no more sense than questioning the back story in Marvel’s “Avengers,” which also comes out next weekend. Instead we should relish the grace and conviction with which Blake Lively handles her unlikely character. The drama is ratcheted up with the introduction of Harrison Ford as William Jones, a former paramour of hers and father of Adeline’s current squeeze. Harrison plays William as seriously as if he were doing “Hamlet,” which is jolly good fun.

At the very least “The Age of Adeline” is a good date flick for cockeyed optimists who think, yeah, right, just maybe that could happen to me.

Freda Payne at Jazziz Nightlife April 30


There’s More than “Band of Gold” To Jazz Singer Freda Payne

By Skip Sheffield

Freda Payne recently recorded a new album, and she’s making a live performance to promote it at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 30 at Jazziz Nightlife in Mizner Park.
Freda Payne is best known for her 1970 hit “Band of Gold.” As actress she understudied for Leslie Uggams in “Hallelujah Baby” and appeared in the Equity Theatre production of “Lost in the Stars.” In 1981 she briefly hosted her own TV talk show “Today’s Black Woman” and has found work in movies, on Broadway and off theater productions through the 1980s and 1990s.
The Detroit native has never given up on music, and in fact she is in a new phase.
“We played the Detroit Jazz Festival, and that resulted in an invitation to play at the Dirty Dog in Grosse Pointe,” reveals Payne by telephone. “Despite the name it is a classy place and it’s owned by a lady who is an heiress. The second time we played there Gretchen (Valande) came up to me and asked if I would like to record an album on her Mack Avenue label. I said we would be delighted.”
The result is “Come Back to Me Love,” a 14-song album produced by pianist-arranger-composer Bill Cunliffe, and featuring new songs by Gretchen Valande and Tom Robinson as well as jazz and big band favorites.
“We are using local musicians for this date,” reveals Payne. “I know we are in conflict with SunFest, but we will have a good time. I have heard great things about Jazziz.”
Tickets are $35 general admission, $55 stage left and $75 VIP. Call 561-300-0730 or go to

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Living Doll Unleashed


Have You Hugged Your Robot Today?

By Skip Sheffield

If robots were to reach a technological level that they seemed human, could a mortal human being fall in love with one?
That’s the basic quandary of “Ex Machina,” a stylish science-fiction movie written and directed by Alex Garland (“28 Days After,” “Sunshine”). The not-so-secret weapon of this intriguing movie is 26-year-old Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, who plays an artificial intelligence (AI) robot named Ava.
Ms. Vikander is breathtakingly beautiful even when suited up as a robot with bald skullcap, visible wires, electrodes and cathodes winking and bleeping away. My prediction is that this movie will propel Alicia Vikander to stardom as “Gone Girl” did for Rosamund Pike.
There are only three lead roles and one supporting cast in this far-out fable, set in some high-security lair perched in a gorgeous, mountainous region unspecified. In addition to Vikander’s Ava there is Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the secretive and enigmatic creator of Ava and fabulously wealthy owner of the posh laboratory/pad where she lives.
Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a young tech wizard and employee of Bluebook, “the world’s most popular Internet search engine” created by Nathan at age 13. Caleb, a 26-year-old coder, entered a competition to win a week at Nathan’s private resort. He won, and he was helicoptered in under great secrecy to Nathan’s high-tech Land of Oz.
Once ensconced in his windowless room in the ultra-high security facility, Caleb is told by Nathan he is to interact with Ava while being observed.
Interact Caleb does, and so does Ava. Conveniently, Nathan’s getaway is subject to intermittent power outages when the all-seeing security cameras go dark and mute. During one of these outages Ava warns Caleb not to trust Nathan.
To spice things up, Nathan has a pretty Asian housekeeper and helper named Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), who may be more than just a helpmate. This is apparent when Caleb witnesses Nathan in an erotic dance with Kyoko.
Oh, and Nathan casually mentions Ava is equipped to fulfill a man sexually, and will feel good vibes in return.

“Ex Machina” is a big step beyond 2013’s “Her,” in which Joaquin Phoenix fell in love with the seductive voice of Scarlett Johansson, playing a computer that fulfilled his every desire. With this movie we get the visuals as well as the audios.  With computer technology advancing as fast as it is, “Ex Machina” may not be all that far-fetched.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

"Unfriended" Not Scary But Creepy


“Unfriended” More Creepy Than Scary

By Skip Sheffield

“Unfriended” is billed as a horror movie. It’s horrible all right, but it is more creepy than scary- really yucky too.
“Unfriended” is about bullying; cyber-bullying to be more specific. The film is super low-budget with no name stars and only 80 minutes long. That’s plenty.
Like so many low-budget horror films, “Unfriended” involves clueless, cruel, selfish and sex-mad teenagers. The relentless cyber and real-time bullying of a girl named Laura (Heather Sessaman) has goaded her into committing suicide.
Bad stuff like this has happened in real life, which adds to the creepiness. Writer Nelson Greaves’ setup is that a group of high school friends in a chat room are visited by a Skype message from beyond, allegedly from Laura, seeking vengeance.
Spoiler alert: she gets it. All horror films rely on suspension of disbelief. This one needs total suspension of logic.
All of us have experienced annoying spam and destructive viruses on our computers. Most of us know how to avoid them. But these clueless teens, headed by Shelley Henning’s scheming Blaire, have forgotten if all else fails you can always pull the plug. But what if the image won’t go away?

Director Levan Gabriadze is from Russia. Perhaps he intended this film as propaganda on how wicked, ruthless and awful American teens are. I would hope he is wrong. If nothing else this movie warns Internet users of any age to be careful of what you post. If you don’t want the whole world to see it forever, don’t do it.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Slow Burn Does a Righteous "Rent"


A Vibrant, Joyful “Rent” at Slow Burn Theatre

By Skip Sheffield

Artistic director and choreographer Patrick Fitzwater asserts Slow Burn Theatre Company’s “Rent” is the first professional regional production of the Tony Award-winning, Pulitzer Prize Best Musical of 1996.
While Fitzwater says “Rent” is the “most mainstream” show put on by Slow Burn, it is plenty out there.
Inspired by Puccini’s opera “La Boheme” and written and composed by Jonathan Larson, “Rent” is set in Greenwich Village, New York in the turbulent late 1980s. It was Larson’s intention to write a rock opera to “Bring musical theater to the MTV generation.”
The MTV reference is already dated, but composer-lyricist Larson certainly had a way with words and music. Tragically he died of an undiagnosed aneurysm just before opening night at age 35.
Perhaps Larson felt “death’s winged chariot” hovering nearby, for a lot of people were engaged in risky behavior in late 1980s New York. The terrible specter of AIDs was just being discovered, and there would be many casualties before it was learned how to slow and control the disease.
Yet “Rent” is an upbeat tribute to the human spirit. Exhibit A is “Seasons of Love,” which leads off Act Two.
“In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, How do you figure a last year on Earth? Figure on Love.”
Exhibit B: “Finale/Your Eyes.”  “There is no future. There is no past. Thank God this moment’s not the last. There’s only us. There’s only this. Forget regret or life is yours to miss. No other road, no other way, no day but today.”
If ever there is a celebration of living in the moment, it is “Rent.” This production is sparked by a young cast, all local, who sing the songs as if they lived them.
Mark Cohen (Mike Westrich) and Roger Davis (Bruno Faria) are the main guys who serve as kind of narrators. Deep-voiced Darrick Penny is a gay man in love with a drag performer named Angel (Bruno Vida). Angel is one of the characters who lives on the edge. So is Mimi (Abbey Perkins). Mimi is Roger’s girlfriend but sadly she also loves the drugs that have her addicted.
Amy Miller Brennan’s Maureen Johnson is a proudly-gay woman in love with Joanne Jefferson, played by the powerfully-voiced Christina Alexander. Brennan’s showcase number is a play-within-a-play,  “Over the Moon.”
With rent you must have a landlord, and he is Benjamin Coffin III (Rayner G. Garranchan), viewed as a turncoat because he once was a struggling Village person and now has a rich girlfriend whose daddy owns the building.
If you know “Rent” only from the 2005 movie do yourself a favor and see this vibrant stage production. It has so much more with a fantastic set by Sean McClelland, lighting by Lance Blank and precision live, onstage musical accompaniment by Caryl Fantell and her small but mighty band.
“Rent” runs through April 26 at West Boca High School Performing Arts Theatre. Tickets are $25-$40. Call 866-811-4111 or go to

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Ben Stiller Does Baumbach Again


Ben Stiller Superb in “While We’re Young”

By Skip Sheffield

Palm Beach International Film Festival concluded its 20th season last week with the prickly, wistful romantic comedy “While We’re Young.”
Now “While We’re Young” has opened nationwide. If you like Ben Stiller, this movie is a must-see, for it is some of Stiller’s best work to date.
It is also writer/director Noah Baumbach’s best movie since “The Squid and the Whale” in 2005.
You know a movie is shooting high when it quotes Goethe in the opening titles. Ben Stiller is Josh Strebnick, a 44-year-old Manhattan documentary filmmaker who is stuck, physically and psychologically. After a promising debut, he has been at work for ten years for a follow-up he just can’t seem to complete.
His wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts) has been more than patient, but she is at the end of her tether. The couple hasn’t been out of New York for eight years, when they vacationed in Rome. Josh is too proud to accept help or advice from Cornelia’s father Leslie, played in a welcome turn by Charles Grodin.
One day seemingly by chance Josh and Cornelia encounter Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried). Coincidentally goofy but endearing Jamie, 25, is an aspiring documentary filmmaker who loved Josh’s first film and quotes from it. Darby makes ice cream and seems content to be in Jamie’s shadow. Jamie and Darby seem to live and absolutely free and unfettered life. Soon Josh and Cornelia are drawn into their world of hipster twentysomethings. Jamie films everything with a tiny video camera.
Josh and Cornelia feel flattered by the attentions of the young couple. They even cross over the line with stolen kisses.
As with “Greenberg,” Stiller’s previous collaboration with Baumbach, Stiller plays an annoying, self-centered yet decent, vulnerable character we learn to sympathize with. Josh feels he has squandered his youth, and he feels envious of the young and vital Jamie. Yet Jamie is not all he claims to be. Josh learns to his chagrin one is never too old to learn a new lesson in human nature.

“While We’re Young” resonates with those who no longer are. Maybe that’s why I related to this film so much. Maybe you will too.

Nicholas Sparks Rides Again

“Longest Ride” a Pretty, Unlikely Romantic Fairy Tale

By Skip Sheffield

You’ve got to hand it to Nicholas Sparks. He churns out novels guaranteed to evoke sentiment through the romantic fantasy of perfect love.
“The Love Letter” was Sparks’ first book translated to screen in 2004.  “The Longest Ride” his 17th, is his latest movie, adapted by Craig Bolotin and directed by George Tillman, Jr. (“Faster”).
“Longest Ride” stars Clint Eastwood’s chiseled youngest son Scott as professional bull rider Luke Collins.
Britt Robertson is Sophie Danko, a pretty Wake Forest college senior bound for an apprenticeship at an art gallery in New York City in a couple months. One day with her sorority sisters Sophie locks eyes with Luke Collins (Eastwood) riding a bucking bull. Luke loses his hat, then tosses it to her. That constitutes courtship in the macho world of professional bull riders.
As with all Sparks’s romances, “Longest Ride” is rooted in the idea of soul mates destined to be together regardless of cultural and economic differences. Sophie is a smart scholarship girl from New Jersey. Luke is a good old boy from North Carolina whose main focus is to be the No. 1 champion bull rider in the USA and give prize money to his widowed mother (Lolita Davidovich) to help run the family farm.
While riding with Luke in his big Ford pickup (Ford is a conspicuous sponsor), Luke spots an old Cadillac run off the road. He rushes down and pulls out an elderly man just as the car catches fire. “The box!” the man cries, and Sophia grabs a wicker basket.
The old man is 90-year-old Ira Levinson, played by Alan Alda. Never mind that Alda is only 79 and Italian by extraction, he is convincing as an elderly Jewish man still in love with his departed love Ruth. The box was filled with love letters from Ira to Ruth, one written every day for all the years they were together. As Sophie reads the letters to Ira, she thinks maybe Luke is Mr. Right, despite his destructive chosen career.
“Longest Ride” is the kind of story where you say OK, that could have happened… and maybe that could have happened, but whoa! That is too much a stretch for even the most delusional romantic.

Whatever, “Longest Ride” and Nicholas Sparks are critic-proof. The film is a pretty fantasy, filmed in part in Black Mountain, NC where my parents had a vacation home for 20 years. Those were the days.

Monday, April 6, 2015

An Exemplary "Oklahoma!" at Wick Theatre


A Beautiful, Faithful “Oklahoma!” at The Wick

By Skip Sheffield

Oh, “Oklahoma!” is one of the greatest American musicals of the 20th century. You can see an exemplary production of the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic through April 26 at the Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton.
“Oklahoma” was the first collaboration between composer Richard Rodgers and librettist Oscar Hammerstein. It also was the first Broadway musical choreographed by Agnes de Mille when it debuted in 1943. Not only was the show a critical and popular success; it received a special Pulitzer Prize and changed the face of American musical theater.
Director-choreographer Norb Joerder has remained faithful to the original script while working within the limitations of the Wick Theatre. These limitations include pre-recorded music, directed by Michael Ursua. For a score so memorable, it is scarcely noticeable.
Jan Parmenter and Lindsey Bliven both make their Wick debuts in the lead roles of cowhand Curly and his lady love and landlady, Laurey. The setting is Oklahoma Territory 1906, and the main event is a box social, in which picnic baskets prepared by the ladies going to the highest-bidding man, who also gains the pleasure of the woman’s company.
Curly and Laurie are made for each other, but loathe to admit it. Curly is a bit too cocky and prideful. Laurie doesn’t want to be seen as a pushover.
There is a complication in the form of ranch hand Jud Fry (Shane Tanner), a moody, troubled man who lives alone in a bunkhouse decorated with racy pictures of women of easy virtue.
Parmenter is very handsome and Lindsey Bliven quite lovely, and they both have requisitely pleasing voices. However it is Shane Tanner who has the most powerful voice among the males, which gives his dangerous Fry added power.
Missy McArdle grounds the whole production as loving, wise-cracking Aunt Eller. Necessary comic relief is provided by James Young as the lecherous, crafty Persian peddler Ali Hakim and Leah Sessa as Ado Annie, the “girl who can’t say no” to Ali’s dubious charms.
Annie’s rightful match is Will Parker (Alex Joth), who simply adores her, but it will take time for Annie to appreciate what she has.
Of special note are Lindsay Bell (who is also Dance Captain) and Tommy Joscelyn, performing the dream ballet sequence created by Agnes de Mille to show the idealized Laurie and Curly. The couple is simply, exquisitely beautiful.
There is a lot of beauty, plenty of laughter, unforgettable songs and some serious moments in this “Oklahoma!” It is a great night of theater.

Tickets are $58-$62. Call 561-995-2333 or go to

Friday, April 3, 2015

An Emotional Finale for "Furious7."


More Bang For The Buck in “Furious 7”

By Skip Sheffield

At the very least “Furious 7” delivers more bang for the buck.
James Wan (“Saw,” “The Conjuring”) takes the helm for this seventh and possibly last installment in the phenomenally popular and successful outlaw street race, car-chase, shoot ‘em up, blow ‘em up series. Chris Morgan, who wrote episodes five and six, also wrote this outlandish, totally unbelievable caper.
Credibility has never been a strong suit of “Fast & Furious.” Personality, humor and friendly camaraderie is. This yarn is special because Paul Walker, who played dropped-dead gorgeous good guy Brian O’Connor, was killed in a car accident before filming wrapped. With his two brothers as stand-ins and a lot of CG magic, the film was completed, with an especially emotional ending. The movie is dedicated simply “For Paul.”
Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto has been the main guy through all the worldwide adventures. It is quite evident the big lug loved and respected Paul Walker.
The plot is about as logical as a Roadrunner cartoon. Basically it is a series of setups of increasingly spectacular stunts. The other principal big lug, Dwayne “Rock” Johnson’s Luke Hobbs, is laid up for much of the action with a broken arm and leg. Don’t fret, Hobbs will spring back to action at the last moment to maximum effect.
The instigator of this brewing war is British badass Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), who is mighty pissed his younger brother got rubbed out in the last episode.
Shaw is just one of a multi-national, multi-ethnic cast. Vin Diesel’s Dom is purportedly Italian. His girlfriend and comrade Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is Latina, and afflicted with temporary amnesia.
African American Chris “Ludicris” Bridges, is the gang’s tech expert. Fellow black man Tyrese Gibson provides comic relief as Roman, who is kind of a black Barney Fife, who always pulls through nevertheless.
The cast’s resident Asian, Han (Sung Kang), was killed off in the last episode. Beautiful Jordana Brewster has an expanded role as Brian O’Connors' wife Mia. A new character is another beautiful woman, Nathalie Emmanuel, who plays an improbable computer genius/hacker known just as Ramsey. Kurt Russell makes a welcome return to action as the mysterious Mr. Nobody, who instinctively knows the Furious gang are the right ones to pull off a risky secret mission.
“Furious” episodes are best-remembered by their incredible stunts. This one has the whole crew parachuting in from a cargo plane in their cars, ready to peel out when they hit the road in a former Soviet territory to capture a “God’s Eye” computer device that can track anyone anywhere in the world instantaneously. A dubiously tasteful sequence in Aba Dubai has Dom and Brian piloting a $3 million sportscar through plate glass and hurtling through space from one high rise tower to another as if gravity never existed. A literal cliff-hanger comes when Brian crawls out of a wrecked bus and the brink.

“What we are is family, your family,” Dom tells Brian after the team emerges unscathed from a battle that almost destroys downtown Los Angeles. “Furious” may be rough and tough, but it has a caring heart.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Magic, Thrills as Pippin Hits Broward Center


“Pippin” Delivers Magic, Thrills at Broward Center

By Skip Sheffield

Welcome to Cirque du “Pippin,” at center stage of Broward Center through April 12.
This is the four-Tony 2013 Broadway revival directed by Tony Award-winner Diane Paulus, with Bob Fosse’s choreography reworked by Chet Walker.
I will admit “Pippin” is not one of my favorite Broadway shows. While Stephen Schwartz’s music is lovely and memorable, Roger D. Hirson’s book is weak; sophomoric, almost silly. The concept is a kind of recycling of Voltaire’s “Candide,” with an innocent going out into the mean real world and getting a lesson in harsh reality versus high expectations.
The innocent is Pippin (Sam Lips), freshly graduated from the University of Padua. The mocking Leading Player (Lisa Karlin) promises “a grand finale you will remember all your life” while Pippin searches for “what can’t be found in books.”
The Leading Player is in some ways more important than Pippin, for it is she (or he, as for Ben Vereen  in the 1972 original) who tells the story, sets up the situation, and makes sarcastic remarks on the characters and what they do.
While Sasha Allen is listed as the Leading Player, for our opening night performance it was Lisa Karlin. I can’t imagine anyone being better than sinewy, slinky, sensuous, Karlin, who moves with catlike grace, with burlesque bumps and grinds thrown in.
The brilliance of this production is the introduction of Gypsy Snider’s Montreal-based circus company into the proceedings. The feats of strength and acrobatic dexterity are alone worth the price of admission, and there are artfully integrated into the action.
Even the non-circus performers are called upon to show their physical prowess. This includes Pippin, his grandmother Berthe, played in a hilarious, sexy turn by a very toned Adrienne Barbeau, and Theo (Lucas Schultz and Stephen Sayegh alternating), Pippin’s stepson. A highlight comes with an audience sing-along on “No Time at All” led by Barbeau from a trapeze perch aloft.
A special treat is delivered by John Rubenstein, the original 1972 Pippin, as his murderous, war-mongering father Charles, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Outstanding as Pippin’s scheming, seductive stepmother Fastrada is Sabrina Harper, a dazzling dancer. Her wholesome polar opposite Catherine, who eventually captures Pippin’s heart, is lovingly conveyed by winsome Kristine Reese.
Yes, they have “magic to do” at Broward Center, and this show delivers a “Love Song” with heartfelt emotion.
Tickets are $34.75 and up. Call 800-745-3000 or go to