The original logo for Pippin, with the letters made up of clownlike characters that reflect the mood of the show

Book by Roger Hirson
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz

INFO:
Opened at The Imperial Theatre    October 23, 1972    1,944 performances (Revived on Broadway in 2013)
Original Director: Bob Fosse
Original Choreographer: Bob Fosse
Original Producer: Stuart Ostrow
Original Leads: Lead Player: Ben Vereen   Pippin: John Rubenstein   Catherine: Jill Clayburgh   Berthe: Irene Ryan
Cast Size:  Male: 2-3    Female: 3-4     Ensemble: Around 12-16      Total Cast Size: 17-21
Orchestra: 16 (could easily be done with 4-5 musicians)
Published Script: Bard Books (Avon)
Production Rights: MTI (Music Theater International)
Recordings: The original Broadway with Vereen is strong enough.
Film: A full 1981 production with Vereen, it’s pretty good but does have some cuts.
Other shows by the authors: Schwartz: Godspell, Wicked
Awards:The original Broadway production earned 11 Tony nominations, winning 4 including Best Actor in a Musical (Vereen), and Director (Fosse).  The 2013 revival got 10 nominations and won 4 again.  With 21 Tony nominations to its credit, few other shows can match it in this regard.

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:
A fine show for colleges and universities, Dinner Theaters, Little Theaters that can do the cast well, stock companies, regional houses, and Broadway.  It’s too adult for High Schools or kid’s groups.

Be Warned:
This show has more than its share of violence and sex.  If your audience doesn’t approve, this is not the show for you.

Pippin was produced by every theater that could do it, for years.  It is currently running in a revival on Broadway.  You may find the rights are restricted.  You may also find that the show has worn out its welcome with too many productions in your area.  Check before selecting it.

THE STORY: (Outline from the MTI site)

ACT ONE: At the rise of the curtain, from the center of glowing rotating hands, appears the face of the Leading Player. He introduces the audience to the world he inhabits as the bare stage populated by a group of actors becomes visible; they are Players in a theatrical caravan. One by one, they all come forward and join the Leading Player in welcoming the audience with magic tricks, dance, and other elements of spectacle, preparing the audience for the story they are about to tell (“Magic To Do”).

The story begins and the audience learns that the tale concerns a boy named Pippin, who is the first-born son of Charlemagne. The story starts when Pippin has returned home from the University of Padua, where he was scholar of the house. He is a young man who refuses to waste his life in pursuit of only ‘common things.’ He believes there is something much more fulfilling in life (“Corner Of The Sky”).

After four days of being back home, Charlemagne finally visits with Pippin. Father and son attempt to carry on a meaningful conversation, but it is obvious that Charlemagne has other matters on his mind (“Welcome Home”). The Leading Player introduces Lewis, Pippin’s half brother, who is directly behind Pippin in line for the throne, and Lewis’ mother Fastrada. Lewis is vapid and vain, but Fastrada is intent on winning him the throne. Charlemagne is not pleased that she has overdrawn her allowance again. He leaves.

Pippin notices that everyone around him is preparing for the campaign against the Visigoths. He decides he wants to be a soldier and join the campaign, but his father will not let him join the fight. Pippin argues that he is next in line for the throne, however, and might be fighting his own war someday. Charlemagne reluctantly agrees, and Pippin gets a helmet to join his father in battle. The soldiers begin preparing to fight the Visigoths, but the eager Pippin keeps getting in the way of his father’s meticulous war campaign strategies (“War Is A Science”). As plans unravel, Pippin becomes disturbed by the language that Charlemagne uses to talk about the enemy. Charlemagne insists that the Visigoth king is talking the same way with his men.

Then, a drum roll is heard – it is a signal that the time for battle has come. Pippin and Lewis follow their father into the battlefield. A bloody battle is waged, much to Pippin’s horror (“Glory”). In the end, Charlemagne and his men win the war. Declaring victory, the king tells the men to rape and sack. Left alone, Pippin walks among the dismembered body pieces. He eventually realizes war is a terrible thing and cannot agree to partake in the victory celebrations. Charlemagne chastises his son for this, but Pippin tells him he’ll have to get used to celebrating without him (“Corner of the Sky – Reprise”).

The Leading Player enters to reflect on a man who had all the earthly possessions he desired, but still felt that there was something missing from his life (“Simple Joys”). Pippin has unexpectedly become this man.

We shift to the countryside to find Berthe, Pippin’s grandmother, enjoying all of the simple joys in life. Pippin appears and confesses his confusion and frustration with life. She advises him to stop thinking and just enjoy life (“No Time At All”). Alone again, Pippin realizes that his grandmother is right. He takes off his shirt and begins to bask in the sun. Soon after, attractive and seductive women appear and slowly surround him (“With You”). At first, Pippin is enjoying the romanticism, however, the mood quickly changes and the women bombard him. Pippin is pulled into numerous exotic orgies. Repelled by this, he screams out and demands to be left alone. The Leading Player comes forward to inform Pippin that his father is now slaughtering his own people who choose to speak out against him. Pippin is disgusted with his father’s actions and decides that it is time for the tyrant to be overthrown.

As Pippin leaves a secret meeting where plans are made to eliminate the King, Fastrada and Lewis are shown eavesdropping. Lewis is shocked, but his mother reminds him that if Pippin kills Charlemagne, or if his father discovers Pippin’s plot and has him executed, Lewis is next in line for the throne. Fastrada tries to secretly expedite this process – she tells her husband that Pippin is disloyal and that Lewis loves his father. When this has no impact, she resorts to another plan: Fastrada prepares her husband to go off for his yearly prayer at Arles and promptly informs Pippin that his father will be praying there. She does not tell the King that Pippin wishes him harm (“Spread A Little Sunshine”).

In the Chapel at Arles, Charlemagne is praying. Pippin enters in disguise and confronts his father about the harm he has brought to his subjects. He then takes a knife and strikes him to the ground. The monks all rise and bow to their new king (“Morning Glow”). Pippin has now become King of the Holy Roman Empire and prepares himself to hear petitions from the many people in his kingdom. He gives money to the poor, gives land to the peasants, and abolishes taxes for everyone. He also abolishes the army. Unfortunately, when the Infidel Huns attack, Pippin’s kingdom cannot fight back. Soon, he is forced to revoke all of the promises he made and, as a result, becomes very unpopular. Lost and confused, Pippin goes to pray at the body of his dead father. He asks his father if he can have his knife back and Charlemagne appears. He takes the crown from Pippin and leaves. The Leading Player tells Pippin that it’s time for him to think about his life (“Act One Finale”).

ACT TWO: Pippin is still agitated and confused, but the Leading Player assures him that things are going exactly as planned (“On The Right Track”). He tries out a variety of different professions and activities, but none is to his liking.

Enter Catherine. She is a widow with a young son and a large estate. When she first sees Pippin, he is a lying on a road like a discarded rag (“There He Was”). It is revealed that Pippin has lost the will to live; she cleans him up and tries restore his ambition. She describes herself as an ordinary woman with ordinary needs. Unfortunately, nothing she says to Pippin makes him change (“Kind Of Woman”).

She finally sends her son, Theo, to talk with Pippin. Theo attempts to show Pippin his duck, but Pippin is not interested. Catherine decides to give Pippin one more chance. She talks with him and finds out that he is in complete despair because he has an overwhelming need to be fulfilled and he is not. She tells him about real despair: a husband she loved very much, who was struck by fever and taken from her. She then asks Pippin to help her run the estate, and he hops out of bed and starts becoming part of her everyday life doing chores. But, this work really doesn’t really interest him either (“Extraordinary”).

Pippin finally decides that he has had enough of menial chores around Catherine’s estate and he tells her that he is leaving. Then, Theo’s duck, Otto, gets sick and the boy comes to Pippin for help. Pippin tries to tell the boy that he doesn’t know anything about ducks. All he can do is pray for the duck to recover (“Prayer For A Duck”). Unfortunately, the duck dies and Theo is heartbroken. Theo plunges into his own monumental despair. Pippin overcomes his own despair by cheering Theo up.

In the course of all this, he finds himself becoming extremely attracted to Catherine. The two of them have fallen in love (“Love Song”). As six months go by, Catherine and Theo throw a party for Pippin. Pippin realizes that the three of them are becoming a family and it completely terrifies him. Pippin tells Catherine that he must leave. Catherine is left alone to reflect on how much Pippin changed her life (“I Guess I’ll Miss the Man”).

Pippin is once again very discouraged and sits alone. The Leading Player and Charlemagne appear to talk Pippin through what he has learned – what they knew all along – that there is nothing completely fulfilling. Pippin agrees. But, suddenly, the Leading Player says there is one thing that it is completely fulfilling…the much anticipated climax of the show. A player with a torch jumps in and a trick firebox is rolled on. This player goes upstage of the box, while another player steps inside the box. A cloth is held up in front of the box and the player with the torch sets fire to a dummy inside the box that is supposed to be a man. We see the dummy burn. After it burns, the cloth is brought up again and the Player steps in front of it. The Troupe applauds.

Pippin is underwhelmed by this trick but the Leading Player assures him that when Pippin does it, it will be real. He asks Pippin to set himself on fire for the audience (“Finale”). Just before he is about to step into the box, he stops. Catherine and Theo appear and Pippin begins to go towards them. The Leading Player is infuriated and demands that Pippin continue with the trick. Pippin takes Catherine and Theo by the hand and the three of them stand together. Pippin realizes that all of the magic and greatness he wanted may have been with them. The Leading Player mocks and threatens Pippin. He removes their costumes, turns off the stage lighting, and empties the stage to show Pippin what life is like without ‘magic.’ Pippin is finally fulfilled.

The Leading Player turns to address the audience. He apologizes for what has happened and abruptly leaves the stage after demanding that the band leave, as well. Now, Pippin cannot even sing. Pippin, who seems to be unfazed, simply sings a capella. Smiling, he and Catherine eventually depart.

Theo is left on stage and stares at a pile of discarded gloves, as the voices of the players can be heard. The curtain slowly falls.

THE SONGS:
“Magic To Do”, “Corner of the Sky”, “Welcome Home”, “War Is a Science”, “Glory”, “Simple Joys”, “”No Time at All”, “With You”, “Spread a Little Sunshine”, “Morning Glow”,”On the Right Track”, “And There He Was”, “Ordinary Kind of Woman”, “Extraordinary”, “Prayer for a Duck”, “Love Song, “I Guess I’ll Miss The Man”, “Finale/Magic Shows and Miracles”

Hits include “Magic To Do”, “Corner Of The Sky”

MY OPINIONS:
As always, feel free to ignore or skip my opinions and rating.  If your production then doesn’t find its corner of the sky, tough luck.

Pippin is a fascinating show to me.  It contains within it examples of the best and the worst of Musical Theater.  It’s script is funny at times, and occasionally becomes a penetrating look at life.  Generally though, it’s loose, sloppy, the humor is either juvenile or forced, and there’s no rising dramatic line, nothing for an audience to care about or for an actor to commit to.  Overall, the libretto seems cleverly amateur to me. I wrote similar things in my teens, but I got better.

The score contains similar strengths and weaknesses to the book.  The two numbers that open the show are stellar.  “Magic To Do” is one of the strongest and most charismatic opening numbers ever written, and Bob Fosse’s original staging of it made it magical and ominous indeed.  “Corner Of The Sky” is a beautiful “I want” song, presenting the lead character’s desires.  Those desires are vague, a “corner of the sky” is not as real or concrete as, say, “someone’s ‘ead resting on my knee”, but then, Pippin  as a character is completely unsure of what it is that he wants.  So the number fits him like a glove, youthful, yearning, and pointless.

But for me, after those first two numbers, a lot of this score is sound and fury signifying nothing.  The humor in the sometimes well-constructed, sometimes poor lyrics are one note, tongue-in-cheek and cynical.  “Spread A Little Sunshine”, “Morning Glow”, “On The Right Track”, “Extraordinary” all come from the same rather grim and cynical place, and all tell us that this guy, Pippin, is a loser bound to lose regardless of his newest ambition.  By the end of about a half hour of the show, we get it.  We know – he’s a loser.  And then, things get worse.  The message at the end of the play is that compromise leads to happiness.  Does it?  Really?  Um, no, it doesn’t.  I’m surprised that Fosse lent his prodigious talents to this show, frankly – that certainly wasn’t a message that he believed in.  Nor do I.  I find the ending of the show a great, big downer.  In fact, as Pippin’s vision of himself in the world shrinks smaller and smaller, my interest in the show commensurately diminishes.  Do I need to spend two hours watching a loser sing about being a loser, while an army of theatrical cynics pile on?

Not really.  And I hate literature or theater that try to sell me on a lie.

And yet, the show does entertain, overall.  “No Time At All” is sort of amusing when sung by a theatrical grande dame. And though I really dislike “With You” as a song, and feel that the music and lyrics equate to watching paint dry,  I like watching young and lithesome women almost as much as Fosse apparently did.  “Glory” has real energy, though what it’s getting at is certainly a bit of a mystery.  Is it truly glorifying war, or are we, as is almost always the case in this show, laughing at everything?

In the end, I guess that’s what I don’t care for the most – the sense that the show feels superior to anyone watching it, that it has assumed the right to laugh at our dreams, our ambitions and efforts.  I find the attitude this show takes toward life noxious.

But I love the role of the Leading Player – in the hands of Ben Vereen, anyway. It provided this most wondrous of performers his best chance to show off all his skills, and to entertain at a level few others can match.  Others in the role…not so much, I’m afraid.  Yes, it’s a noble experiment to place a woman in the role, one which I’d seen done decades ago, long before the current Broadway revival.  But almost nobody can do what Vereen did with the role.

And I love the bit when Charles the Great is restored to life by Pippin, after the boy assassinated him, and the resurrected King murmurs “Just don’t do it again” as he exits.  A moment worthy of Monty Python.

You see my dilemma?  The show is an embarrassment of riches and empty glasses.  It is champaign and swill.  And any director taking it on must work within its limits.  Fosse pulled out all of the theatrical stops. I think I saw a kitchen sink somewhere in his production. Magic/circus/fire eaters…you name it!  The eye was dazzled!  The show reeked of theatricality working feverishly to hide it’s weak structure and eventual pointlessness.  And it worked.  A triumph of glitz over content.

Fortunately (or pointedly) the show is structured to be done exactly as Fosse did it.  He saw to that.  So it is a show built with the expectation that layers of glitz shall be generously applied, that all the audience will see in the end is the glitz. It is the show part of showbiz gone mad, Broadway rhythm’s got me, everybody sing and dance!  (And it did good business, too.)

It’s not a great show, not really even a good one.  But man, can it entertain in the right hands.  In the wrong hands…um, wow, I’d rather be where W.C. Fields is now, than have to see a poor production of Pippin.  So don’t do a poor production.  And get everyone working on their juggling.

Will this show also work as an “intimate black-box” production, as promoted by MTI?  Nope.  The writing just isn’t strong enough.  It needs the glitz.  That is not to say that a small theater company can’t do it, it can be staged in a smaller theater, certainly.  But the level of theatricality Fosse brought to the proceedings was necessary and right.  He was a wise showman.  If you plan on doing this in a small and intimate environment, you’ll need to find an intimate equivalent for Fosse’s flash.  Your Director probably should be able to conceptualize wildly, but with theatrical know-how.  Not for every group, but it can be done.

By the way, though the Musical plays fast and loose with history, it is based in history.  Charles the Great, Charles I, or Charlemagne, was the ruler of the Franks, and the first King to unite Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire, some 300 years earlier.

He was married four times, his third wife was named Fastrada.  His first son, of which there are several conflicting versions of his life, may have been something like a hunchback, and illegitimate, and was named Pepin.  As Pippin does in the play, this son mounted a rebellion against his father that ultimately failed.  Charles was ultimately followed to the throne by…Lewis. But Lewis’ mother was Hildegard, Charles’ second wife, not Fastrada.   That’s history.

MY RATING: * (A better-than-average and interesting show, right for many groups.)

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:
The music is rhythmically complex, and harmonically rich so far as the vocals are concerned.  It is the popular admix of theatrical structure and pop sounds that Mr. Schwartz does fairly well.  Your Musical Director should be comfortable playing this type of music, and teaching it.  There’s a fair amount of background harmonizing by the ensemble to be worked out, so start vocal rehearsals early and give yourself time.  And given the high likelihood that your ensemble will be cast for dance before voice, this may produce a real problem.  Your rehearsal pianist better eat his Wheaties, the energy required to get through a long rehearsal will be considerable.

A job for a reasonably experienced Musical Director, who is at least a fair musician and who plays well enough.

Pippin – Tenor, with strong high notes, some falsetto up there, some decent low notes, and a well-supported mid range.

Lead Player – Lyric baritone who oozes charisma in his vocal delivery.  A good pop belt, some decent upper notes.

Catherine – Mezzo with a bit of a decent belt, a warm voice.

Charlemagne – Bass-baritone with a full, round bottom tone, could even be operatically trained.

Fastrada – Mezzo with a healthy belt.

Berthe – Elderly alto who can still belt.

Players (Ensemble) – All will need a pop quality, and be able to belt, and harmonize quite well.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:
Bob Fosse directed and choreographed the original production.  That tells you a lot of what you need to know. Does the show need heavy “dance”?  Yes and no.  It works best with lots of color and movement, energy and salesmanship.  Fosse was the best at such things, and he made a lot of this show dance.  The dancing was sexy, theatrical, jazzy and energetic.

A Choreographer working this show will probably be involved in staging at least “Magic To Do”, “War Is a Science”, “Glory”, “Simple Joys”, “”No Time at All”, “With You”, “Spread a Little Sunshine”, “Morning Glow”,”On the Right Track”, “Ordinary Kind of Woman”, and “Finale/Magic Shows and Miracles”.  That’s a large percentage of the score.  So your Choreographer will be busy.

“Magic To Do” was originally done with what was called a “light curtain”, some serious up and down lights set at the front of the stage, surrounded by blackness.  So when placed a hand into the horizontal beams of light, all the audience could see of the performer was the hand.  Magical, and pretty cool!  But not absolutely necessary to make this number work.  The “magic” the players are planning to do is the telling of a story out of history, the resurrection in essence of the spirits of Charlemagne and Pippin and others.  It is a theatrical and almost ritual magic.  And ritual plays a large part in this show.  Pippin is a rite of passage, the tale of a young man who grows up (not particularly well, by the way).  It is the same winter/spring ritual explored in not dissimilar ways in Schmidt & Jones’ Celebration.

Look, I love Fosse’s work as much as anyone.  I understand all too well why he went the uber-theatrical route with this show.  But I think this number could be re-conceived entirely.  And while it may not remain quite as blatantly theatrical, it could be as breathtaking and at the same time, be more about the show.   An opening presenting the magic of theater, and of resurrection of an ancient tale before our eyes, would help set the table for the rest of the show.  Just a thought.  This number focuses around the Lead Player, presenting him as having almost God-like powers to create and control the story-telling.  And for the show to work, this opening number must establish the Lead Player in this manner.  He/She is creative energy and “director”.   Show the Lead Player raising the dead to tell a tale.  There’s magic for you, of a sort tied more carefully to the book.

“War Is A Science” is almost a burlesque.  Like so much of this show, when it comment on life, it keeps it’s tongue firmly in  its cheek.  Does the audience care about the tactics of war?  Nope.  The characters seem to, but really?  Nope.  This is a silly number that turns war into song and dance.  It isn’t a strong number, and so requires some glitz to keep things moving.  The “comedy” here is fairly juvenile, with Pippin, youthful and enthused, interrupting his father’s war conference determined to get out there and slaughter Visigoths.  It’s just not that funny, folks.  Make it as funny as possible, keep the action focused on Pippin and his father.  I’ve found in several productions I’ve seen of Pippin that Charlemagne often is almost lost as a character and story line.  I think this is a serious mistake in presenting this show.  Keep the focus on the father-son relationship in this song.  And who does the ensemble agree with?  Charles and his determination to plan, or Pippin in his headlong pursuit of blood?   Are they torn?  That could be funny, somewhat.

“Glory” revolves around the Lead Player.  It’s a sort of jazz strut much of the time, an unusual piece that does offer some vitality.  It is meant to be worshipful of Charles I, a fact that seems, again, usually to be lost in presentation.  “Charlemagne, you lead us on to power…”  That’s what they sing.  It is a song of triumph, of worship of war, blood, youth, and the king.  Rather than simply paste movement over the interesting music, why not make the number mean what it seems to be intended to mean?  Worship the sword, the image (or actuality) of the king, fallen comrades, get some sense of a real war into the number.  It does not need to be “dark” or nontheatrical.  But it can mean something rather than be a parade of music and movement, signifying nothing.

“Simple Joys” is again the Lead Player, commenting on Pippin’s life.  Does he mean what he sings?  Does he ever?  So, we have three consecutive numbers now about “The Flesh”, the title of the scene.  Three.  Well, I guess if I was going to sing about something, sex is better than war.   The first of the three is an aggressive, upbeat Latin mix about living for sybaritic pleasure.  It is not inviting, however, it is fierce, rapid, almost feverish.  And it attempts as well to tell us some story, the part about Pippin running away “from deeds he’d done”, of which there have been almost none so far.  I think this number is more glitz sort-of hiding the fact of a lack of content.  So, the number tells us that now, Pippin is free to enjoy “sweet summer evenings.”  Yet, he doesn’t do so for a while, two numbers down the road.  Should you cut a good song?  (It’s fairly good.)  I would never suggest such a thing.  Out loud.  But if it’s there, you should attempt to tie it to the story, the action, and the meaning of the moment.  Do other soldiers take their leave and screw around, offering Pippin a visible example of his options?  That could be fun.  What does he see that interests him in this route?

And why, if he’s suddenly interested in “sweet summer evenings”, does he visit granny first?  “No Time At All” is a sort of cross between a Vaudeville number and a pop-folk piece about sex.  Sung by an octogenarian.  With a backup chorus of randy men.  It’s different.  Keep it light, fun, have her use the men as props, playthings, what have you, without getting to nasty here.   This number violates the fourth wall (as does much of the show) and needs its theatricality to play.  And remember, it’s all an object lesson for Pippin.  Somehow, he should be involved and connected.  He needs to not become a cypher, which he’s in danger of by this point in the show.

“With You” is a parade of semi-dressed nubile wonders, which Pippin experiences for the first time.  In an odd way, it’s almost a throwback to Ziegfeld and his celebration of the American girl.  Only these aren’t girls, they’re women, and they’re from everywhere.  The number can be dance, almost balletic, poetic, flowing and sensual.  And Pippin, who does all the singing, need hardly move a muscle as the girls do all the seductive work.  Obviously this number should not get too explicit, but Pippin was never the best of family shows.

“Spread A Little Sunshine” is a solo, sung and danced as a celebration of Fastrada’s power over life and men.  Despite her joking assertions that she’s just like every mother and wife, she’s a driven, monomaniacal woman willing to sacrifice anything including her husband to her own ambitions for her son, Lewis.  This number is an exuberant display of self-adulation, and joy in conquest.  And it should be feminine.  She is winning the sort of war only a manipulative woman can win.  High energy, and you’ll need an actress who dances.

“Morning Glow” is another celebration, almost full company, of Pippin’s ascension to the throne after having “assassinated” his father.  But it is staid, contained, almost religious in its fervor rather than overt and unrestrained, as “Spread A Little Sunshine” becomes.  Pippin is the focus of adulation, the sun shines behind his haloed form, he is deified.  It should be grand, perhaps moving, and utterly premature.  No one could live up to this hype.  Knees are bent in his direction, and he’s seen as standing at the left hand of Jesus Christ, as was his father.

“On The Right Track” is a frenetic duet for the Leading Player and Pippin, as the actor tries to get the boy to keep going, keep moving through his life – or there’ll be no story to tell.  The Lead Player’s motivations for singing this song are selfish, as always.  This must somehow show up in the number, even as he pumps Pippin up.  And it doesn’t take much to get Pippin wound up, as he’s desperate for experience.  Let the Leading Player lead, introduce Pippin to lives and people, open doors, manipulate the situation.  Make this number about the Leading Player, as we’ve already heard all this whining from Pippin.

“Ordinary Kind Of Woman” is sung by an average housewife type, with the other women singing background and painting a romantic, pink, heart-shape, love-filled context that contradicts her words and shows us what’s really going on in her mind.  The contrast should be funny, and over-the-top.

The contrast created in the final number between an average life as a husband and step-father, and a glorious ending being set on fire, should be both comic and dynamic to have impact.  The problem is that it all feels tongue-in-cheek, both possible endings for Pippin, they both feel like he’s lost the game before it’s begun.  And you don’t want your audience thinking in those terms.  Hence, glitz, theater, an inviting flame dancing before the audience’s eyes.

The Choreographer for Pippin needs to be experienced.  The show requires a lot of dance, high-energy, slick, theatrical and sparkly.  You’ll need a fairly expert Choreographer to pull it off.

CASTING CONCERNS:
Note – All the actors will double as ensemble except for Pippin and The Lead Player.  Catherine stops doubling when she starts playing Catherine.

Pippin – Late teens-20s.  A pretty ordinary young man, reasonably attractive.  Needs a decent actor who won’t get so whiny that we can’t stand him – or who can make the whining funny, which would be even better.  Self-deprecating humor would be a plus.  Cast for type, voice, acting, movement, must be good at everything.

Lead Player – 20s-40s.  Male or female, any race.  Must be extremely charismatic, a fine actor able to play a range of emotion while making it clear it’s all a put-on.  Must sing very well, must dance extremely well.  Requires a fine sense of comic timing.  Cast for voice, dance, acting, type, but must be strong at everything.  A star.

Catherine – Late 20s-30s.  Lovely, reasonably bright, self-involved as everyone is in this play.  Has a serious foot fetish.  Would move mountains for her son.  Cast for acting, voice, type.

Charlemagne – 40s-50s.  A large, burly, bearded, almost elegant man capable of direct and unbending leadership.  Clever, intelligent, devoutly Christian, but a lousy father.  Cast for acting, type, voice, some movement.  Doubles in ensemble.

Fastrada – A bit younger than Charlemagne.  Sexy, well put together, devious, clever.  Capable of putting up a very phony front of concern.  Cast for acting, dance, type, voice.   Should double in ensemble.

Berthe – 50s-60s.  Granny to Pippin.  A sharp, aggressive lady whose conquests, unlike her son, were probably similar to Fastrada’s…in the bedroom, over men.  A comic actress of age who can sing and move a bit.

Lewis – Younger than Pippin, a muscle-bound hormone-drenched boob…destined to become the next Emperor.  Cast for type, acting, dance and voice as he’ll be in the ensemble.

Players (Ensemble) – Generally young, attractive, strong dancers who sing and harmonize well, and can play a few lines.

SETS:
This show is intended to be played on a unit set, one that is colorful, highly theatrical, and versatile. The feel of the visual content of this show is often like a circus.  Banners, flags, saturated colors, things resembling tents and circus acts, or a grand magic show.  The set does NOT and need to, and should not be “transformed” for any location in the story telling.  Rather, isolated pieces of furniture or very representational and partial settings can appear as if by magic.  But all of this should be very simple, colorful, and leave an essentially bare stage downstage to perform on.  The feel that this is a “stage” should never be lost.  The show breaks the fourth wall constantly, so no attempt to create “reality” should be made in design.

A good assignment for a creative, up-and-coming Designer who can use some experience.

COSTUMES:
Again, nothing literal or “period correct” needs to be done.  The costumes should be theatrical representations evoking Europe at the time of Charles I, but should be far from realistic.  Spangles and sparkles, cloaks and capes and anything that creates magic to the eye should be used.  The original Broadway production created quasi-military armor that was sexy, form fitting, and placed it on the women.  Fosse, you know.  The men were largely in linens, white and colorful, sometimes resembling long underwear.  This is all one approach,. But the possible approaches are endless.

The Leading Player was dressed in modern blacks, tight fitting dance pants, jazz shoes, a black shirt.  Again, this is one approach.  And dress Catherine a bit different than the other ladies, plainer, simpler, more “real.”  Fastrada can be a man trap.

You can get as creative as you like with the costuming.  But the sets and costuming should align with the Director’s concept for your production.  I can imagine companies that dress the cast for a magic show, with everyone in the cast a part of that show.  That could be very interesting.  Anyway, the door is open.  You will probably be building your costuming, and some of it may come off the rack.  There won’t be much you can rent.

A show for a reasonably creative, somewhat experienced Costume Designer.

PROPS:
There are likely to be a lot of props needed for Pippin.  Hats and canes, “swords” and “spears” and “shields.”  Magic tricks.  A torch that bursts into flame, which the fire police will allow you to use.  Maps of ancient war.  A lot more.  Get a Prop Master with experience, as much will need to be contrived.

LIGHTING:
A big job.  The lighting should project the emotional changes that come fast and furious throughout, as well as isolate action.  Some numbers will be able to use a spotlight, such as “Spread A Little Sunshine”.  This is pure “theater.”  In fact, you could do the Brechtian thing and lower the lighting grid so many of your lamps are visible to the audience, another constant reminder that this is a live show.

In general, the lighting should never strive for “reality.”  It should smack of theater, of “show biz.”  A job for an experienced and creative Lighting Designer.

MAKE-UP:
Often the show is played with many of the actors in a sort of white face with black shapes drawn on.  Why?  I haven’t the slightest.  If it’s all a magic show, then the cast should look like a part of it – and make up should be subtle and unobtrusive.  A circus?  Then clowns and a ringmaster?  This all needs to be coordinated with your Director.  Could be an interesting assignment, but probably will end up pretty simple.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):
Director, Choreographer, Musical Director, Set Designer, Costume Designer, Lighting Designer, Leading Player, Pippin

MY THOUGHTS:
As you can tell, I do not love Pippin.  The show leaves me shrugging and disappointed.  So much of the material falls flat that without a wizard at the helm, I doubt the show is worthy of production.  But with a strong and creative Director, and a team of similar designers, the show can be a lot of fun to do and watch.  It is very popular!  Maybe not at my house, but still.

I somewhat doubt this show is in danger of becoming extinct.  It has many advantages that will keep it alive. It’s a mid-sized show with a single set, and a few excellent roles for actors.  It has a few songs that have become quasi-hits.  It has long been a favorite for local theater groups and schools.  It’s not overwhelmingly likely to date badly, as the score is largely pastiche as it is.  I suspect this show will outlive many worthier shows.