Paulus, whose revival of “Hair” was a highlight a few years back, treats the schematic “Pippin” as the canvas for a series of lively if superfluous carnival acts; but the charm of the musical, the tale of Charlemagne’s son (played by the dashing Matthew James Thomas), is in its pared-down whimsy. At the Music Box Theatre, it’s all pumped up to the point of falseness, an impression reinforced by the mechanical performance of Patina Miller as the Leading Player — the role that Ben Vereen perfected, once upon a time.
It comes as a relief to escape the beleaguered sidewalks of Times Square and find oneself in precincts far more conducive of late to meaningful artistic transactions. At Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in the West Village, for instance, Jonathan Tolins’s “Buyer & Cellar” is eclipsing Broadway’s “I’ll Eat You Last” as a multidimensional unraveling of our voyeuristic enjoyment of celebrity entitlement. Playing a fictional naif who falls into a job in a shopping street that Streisand has built in the basement of one of her Malibu homes, the gifted Urie proves to be the ideal, wide-eyed guide into this exotic and yet entirely accessible terrain.
Several blocks to the east, “Here Lies Love” is nightly presenting a rocking antidote to the contrivances going on uptown. Put on your sensible shoes, because the best seats to the show — set to music by Byrne (of Talking Heads fame) and Fatboy Slim, and choreographed by Annie-B Parson — don’t exist. (You can opt to sit in a balcony ringing the theater, but that looks like far less fun.) While a crew latches and unlatches pieces of David Korins’s movable set, the audience, about 100 strong, moves with it.
As a DJ (the excellent Kelvin Moon Loh) looks down from his perch, what enfolds is the all-too-familiar account of a Third World country Shanghaied by corruption and self-indulgence. The principals — who include Miles, Jose Llana as Ferdinand Marcos and Conrad Ricamora, playing the martyr Ninoy Aquino — give thrilling shape to the poisons and passions the Marcoses engender. Byrne and Slim’s sultry compositions not only intensify the tropical heat, they also make you feel like dancing.
You’re encouraged to do so, and don’t be surprised to find a songwriter serenely grooving along, too. Byrne frequently shows up on the dance floor, with every right to be as happy as he looks.
For “Pippin,” “Orphans,” “I’ll Eat You Last” and “The Testament of Mary,” call 212-239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com. For “Motown: The Musical,” call 877-250-2929 or visit www.motownthemusical.com. For “Here Lies Love,” call 212-967-7555 or visit www.publictheater.org. For “Buyer & Cellar,” call 866-811-4111 or visit www.rattlestick.org.