I’d been waiting to see Pippin, the Stephen Schwartz musical, for the last forty-plus years, ever since I was living in my college town of New Paltz in the mid-1970s, and saw the “first TV commercial that actually showed scenes from a Broadway show” on the New York City TV stations.
“The commercial, which ran 60 seconds, showed Ben Vereen [as the Leading Player] and two other dancers, Candy Brown and Pamela Sousa who were in the chorus of the show, in the instrumental dance sequence from ‘Glory’. The commercial ended with the tagline, ‘You can see the other 119 minutes of Pippin live at the Imperial Theatre, without commercial interruption.'”
Pippin was originally directed and choreographed by the legendary Bob Fosse, and ran nearly five years, from October 23, 1972 to June 12, 1977, a total of 1944 performances. It was nominated for 11 Tony awards, and won five, including one for Vereen and two for Fosse.
Pippin was reimagined by director Diane Paulus with a circus motif. It ran for nearly two years on Broadway, from April 25, 2013, to January 4, 2015, with 709 performances. It won four of the 10 Tonys for which it was nominated, including Best Revival of a Musical and Best Director.
Now there’s a touring show, which I was REALLY excited about, especially since I saw this CBS Sunday Morning segment. John Rubinstein, the original Pippin, now plays his father Charles, a/k/a Charlemagne; yes, this VERY loosely based on actual historic figures.
The Wife and I saw the show on Thursday evening, May 28, at Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady.
The circus motif was quite effective in addressing Pippin’s search for meaning and purpose in his life. And the performances in the first act were incredible – the magic, the athleticism. More than once, including at least one costume change, the audience wondered, “How did they DO that?”
In the Times Union review of the Tuesday, May 26 opening night performance, Times Union critic Steve Barnes described that cast members “twirl from long ribbons, stand three-tall atop one another’s shoulders, balance on a board precariously perched on four steel cylinders and even, in the show’s most extraordinary physical feat, create the human equivalent of a ring-toss game.”
We were wowed by 69-year-old Adrienne Barbeau, from TV’s Maude, playing Berthe, Pippin’s grandmother, singing, upside down, above the stage.
Sasha Allen, who was a contestant on the singing competition The Voice a couple of seasons ago, had been playing the Leading Player, part narrator, part circus ringmaster. Unfortunately, she damaged her hand in early May. The role when we saw it was played by Lisa Karlin, who was quite good. Barnes described her as “a looming, effective presence; you wouldn’t want to cross her.”
Then the second act, which is totally different. The contrast spoke to the pointlessness of the razzle-dazzle of war and the like, in favor of finding meaning in ordinary life. It’s only at the end when I finally GOT the message.
I enjoyed Pippin a great deal.
Useless detail I learned while looking up stuff: Irene Ryan, who played Granny on The Beverly Hillbillies television show, was nominated as Best Featured Actress in a Musical, for playing the grandmother in the original production of Pippin.
Note: I have been nominated by my buddy Lisa over at Peripheral Perceptions to participate in the Five Photos, Five Stories meme, which simply says I should post a photo each day for five consecutive days and attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction or non-fiction, a poem or a short paragraph and each day nominate another blogger for the challenge.
The problem is that almost all my posts are stories and have pictures. So I’m cheating and writing only one new post. And I’m nominating YOU!