Musical theatre workshops and productions

Things I learned about PIPPIN!

PIPPIN has always held a special place in my heart.  I remember seeing it four times before I went to college. You see, I was in high school when it was the “big” show to do.  Although I never did the show, I still LOVED seeing it.  As I am reading the revised and updated version of my friend Carol de Giere’s book,  Defying Gravity- The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz from Godspell to Wicked, I am learning a few things that I never knew about this great show (PIPPIN) and I wanted to share some of those pieces of information.  So, here goes:

  • There is a character called “Leading Player” in the show. He is a kind of master of ceremonies, a ringleader, who moves the show along, comments on the action, and talks to the actors.  Of course, that role was originated by the great Ben Vereen.  But I learned that Fosse, who really conceived the role, originally wanted an older man for the role.  But, since it was a Fosse show after all, the actor also had to dance.  When the casting director came back to Fosse and said that he really had a hard time finding actors to call in because the older men simply did not keep up with their dance technique, an angry Fosse stormed out of the room, went for a walk, and remembered how impressed he was with Ben Vereen paying Judas in JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR.  He asked the casting director to call Vereen and audition him.  And, well…..the rest is history.  One of the rare cases where the role was shaped to the performer, instead of the other way around!
  • There is a dance trio in the show – the leading player in front and two women behind to the right and left. This dance comes during the war sequence in PIPPIN. It juxtaposes the brutality of war against these three dancers. Their dance includes hip movements and jazz hands – all Fosse trademarks.   The dance was featured in the Fosse/Verdon television show called “The Manson Trio.”  But, why was it called that? It turns out Fosse was very interested in Charles Manson and his cult following, and thought that the leading player had a similar kind of way of attracting followers.
  • PIPPIN was the first Broadway show to do a television commercial.  It was a huge hit and producers believed that was partly responsible for keeping the original show on Broadway for 5 years.
  • The finale has been a moving target. Fosse insisted that the show end on a downer “How do you feel Pippin?”  “Trapped.” Schwartz wanted a lighter ending and finally got his way by adding “which isn’t so bad for a musical comedy…Ta da!”
  • But then a third ending was created (and it appears to be Schwartz’s favorite). At the beginning of the show, the leading player lures the audience to join his troupe, his adventure, his world.  And soon he lures Pippin the same way.  In this third version, at the end the leading player lures the little boy, the son of leading-lady Catherine, in just the same way..  It’s a kind of cycle that leaves us all to face the same question: do we like our life as it is or do we yearn to abandon the everyday and “join the circus?” For me, this ending really worked when I saw the revival on Broadway. PIPPIN – hope you get to see it soon.

Larry Little

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