A couple of days before the show ended its season performance at the historic Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles, this writer and a media colleague, were priveleged to receive our complimentary tickets, courtesy of generous, thoughtful friends who couldn’t make it to the show. Though on the way to the theatre, while colleague Evelyn Portugal was driving her car, around six blocks west of the Pantages, the car she was d riving was sideswiped on the driver’s side fender by an older lady’s SUV who were from Tehachapi, but was apparently not used to LA’s traffic. Nevertheless, that incident didn’t deter us from proceeding to make it to the show’s call time.
In this American Repertory Theatre production superbly directed by Diane Paulus, choreography by Chet Walker and costume designed by Dominique Lemieux, ‘the revival presentation of “Pippin” once again showcased why the original 1972 production won the Tony awards for the music and lyrics written by Stephen Schwartz, based on the book by Roger O. Hinsonand originally directed by Bob Fosse.
“Pippin” brought to light the lives of people in a circus or performance troupe environment. The story unfolds, lead by a storyteller whose role (played wonderfully by Sasha Allen) as the Leading Player, narrated the story about the fictitious life of “Pippin,” a young prince (son of King Charemagne during the Middle Ages) who’s in search for the “meaning and significance” of life.
It was in the original Broadway production where Ben Vereen, who played the Leading Player, won him the much coveted Tony Award. It is in this unconventional role, where the Leading Player speaks directly to the audience and encourages audience participation during its musical numbers that won him the award.
The play begins with the Leading Player of the circus troupe, garbed in various colorful costumes, formed a crowd around the boy prince, “Pippin,” (played by the ultra good-looking Kyle Dean Massey), whose dream is to have an “extraordinary” life. Massey’s powerful voice conveyed the message he imparted when he sang: “every man has his dreams…every man has his goals; I’ve ‘got to be where my spirits run free; I’ve ‘got to find my corner in the sky.”
The play continued on when Pippin returned to the castle of his father, Charlemagne (King Charles) played by John Rubenstein, who looked reluctant to show his emotions toward his son, on the other hand, Charlemagne submits to his conniving, “Mephistopheles-like” wife, Fastrada (played by Sabrina Harper), who controls his son Lewis, (played by Callan Bergman) to convince Charles to bring him along to battle against the Visigoths.
To prove himself to his father, Pippin in turn begged Charles to go to battle with them. But, during the battle, he realized that war wasn’t for him and he fled to the countryside, where he found his grandmother, Berthe (played by the amazing, acrobatic and sultry singer Amanda Martin), who was exiled by Fastrada.
It was Berthe, in her riveting scene stealer role, who advised Pippin to search for something meaningful in life, which he eventually did, in the person of Catherine (played by Christine Reese), a country widow whose son, Theo (played amazingly by Lucas Shultz) whose character was drawn to Pippin, looked up to him. This sort of “bond” which Pippin had with Catherine and Theo made him realize that he finally found his modest, ordinary life and it was this feeling of fulfillment which made him realize the “significance of life,” thus making him happy, contented and resigned as he sang: “every man has his daydreams, every man has his goals; I’ve ‘got to be where my spirits can ran free; I’ve ;got to find my corner in the sky.”
And for it’s poignant finale, Pippin’s story ended when he sang: “when I wanted the world to paint and costumes to wear, I think it was here…’cause it never was there.”
For those of you who missed watching “Pippin” The Musical this year, don’t miss to see it when it’s showing in your neighborhood…it certainly is worth your most valuable time!