ON THE RECORD: The New Broadway Cast Album of Pippin

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21 Jul 2013

Cover art
Cover art

This week's column examines the new cast recording of Stephen Schwartz's Pippin.

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Pippin is an unusual musical, as long-running blockbusters go. The original production was stunning, with the praise mostly going to the razzle-dazzle skills of director/choreographer Bob Fosse. The more accolades Fosse received, the less credit went to lesser items like songs and book. (Fosse, methinks, planned it that way; he was quite a showman and seemed to build the musical on a foundation of nothing.) Pippin has been more or less relegated to the "shows of their time but hopelessly dated" shelf.

It turns out, though, that there's life in the old boy yet. The old boy being Pippin, young son of Charlemagne but otherwise a minor historical figure. Rebellious young son, that is. The show came along in the midst of the Vietnam protest era, which was embraced by major hits like Hair and 1776. (The latter, which praised patriotism while lionizing pacifists — in the "Momma, Look Sharp" scene, anyway — and lambasted "cool, cool" conservatives, was produced by the same Stuart Ostrow who, four years later, gave us Pippin.)

Pippin sans Fosse seemed as unthinkable as West Side Story sans Robbins or A Chorus Line sans Bennett, but that overlooks the presence of songwriter Schwartz. He has never gotten much respect on Broadway, even when he had three concurrent hits in the 1970s (namely Pippin, Godspell and The Magic Show). Wicked, while not winning him any awards, has established his songwriting credentials now and forever. In fact, I would have to guess that his percentage royalty for Wicked — with multiple companies racking up millions of dollars a week — has caused him to out-earn all American theatre composers.



Given the continued strength of Schwartz's Oz show, it was inevitable that Broadway would eventually see a revival of Pippin. Fortunately, Diane Paulus, director of the recent revivals of Hair and The Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, came up with a vision for the show that works exceedingly well. The Fosse touch is still there, after a fashion, with some choreographic flavors. Paulus had the canny idea of grafting circus onto Pippin, adding an important (and fitting) new element. Circus creation, as they quaintly term it, came from Gypsy Snider, of the Montreal-based company Les 7 doits de las main. (Theatregoers who saw Traces during its year-long run in Union Square will have an idea of the marvels to expect from the Pippin circus.) Snider's work has made the 2013 Pippin magical in a way that the 1973 production wasn't. Mind you, the 1973 Pippin had Fosse — and what could be the finest set of show dancers ever seen on Broadway.

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