Musical Monday: Pippin

Pippin_300Name: Pippin

Credits: Music & Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Book by Roger O. Hirson. Directed by Bob Fosse.

Summary: A musical based on the fictitious life of Pippin, the son of King Charlemagne, as he searches for meaning.

Dates:
Broadway: Opened in 1972 and ran for 1,944 performances; closed in 1977.
Revival: Opened in 2013 and played through 2015. The revival spawned a National Tour, which began in 2014 and is still ongoing.
Film: A stage production of Pippin was videotaped in Toronto in 1981; it can be found on YouTube. In 2003, after the success of the film version of Chicago, Miramax acquired the rights to Pippin, but did nothing with them. Then, in late 2014, it was announced that TV and film producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (known for Chicago, The Sound of Music Live, and Hairspray) would produce the move with the Weinstein company, with a release date TBA.

Awards:
Broadway: Nominated for 11 Tony Awards in 1973, including Best Musical (it lost to A Little Night Music). It won 5 including Best Direction of a Musical, Best Choreography (Bob Fosse) and Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical (Ben Vereen as The Leading Player).
Revival: Nominated for 10 Tony Awards in 2013. It won 4, including Best Revival of a Musical, Best Direction, and Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (Patina Miller, as The Leading Player).

Rating: PG

Why This Musical: Pippin is one of those shows that feels like it has been around forever—at least for me—because numerous high schools and community theaters performed it in the 1980s. The music, which is heavy on pop ballads, definitely has a 1970s vibe, and the choreography features Bob Fosse’s famous “jazz hands.” The story doesn’t have much of a plot—Pippin wanders the countryside, looking for meaning, engaging in warfare, one-night stands, patricide, and romance. Throughout the play, a mysterious figure, known as The Leading Player, directs the action, accompanied by a bizarre circus troupe. The musical opened a year after Godspell (also written by Stephen Schwartz) and it’s not hard to see the similarities between the two shows. The 2013 Broadway revival breathed new life into Pippin, updating it with circus-inspired staging that incorporated the acrobatics of the Montreal-based circus company Les 7 doigts de la main (7 Fingers). The new show opened to rave reviews, particularly for the choreography and the casting of Patina Miller as the Leading Player.

My Connection: For years, I dismissed this as a slightly cheesy 1970s musical without much of a story. Watching the 1981 version online, which meanders endlessly, didn’t improve my opinion. However, I heard great buzz about the Broadway revival, and I was impressed by the clip of “Magic To Do” shown at the 2013 Tony Awards. When my daughter’s high school performed the show, they took their cues from the revival, and the result was marvelous. After listening to the soundtrack on repeat, I’ve been converted. The songs are catchy and fun, and “Corner of the Sky,” in particular, is one my favorite “I want” songs in musical theater.

Where to See It: You can find the videotaped 1981 performance on YouTube, but it’s not that good. The revival is currently on tour, so I’m hoping to catch it when it comes to Chicago or Milwaukee. If you’re interested in the soundtrack, make sure to look for the New Broadway Cast Recording.

Favorite Songs:
“Magic to Do”
“Corner of the Sky”
“No Time at All”
“Morning Glow”

Final Thoughts: Give the cast recording a listen, and see if it doesn’t grow on you!

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