by Eileen, Travel Consultant
One of the strongest memories I have from my childhood is when my mother would pull out a bright pink vinyl to play on the old record player in our living room. As the opening chords began, she would pick me up and sing to me, “join us, leave your field to flower”. We’d dance around as the Lead Player and his troupe sang to us about their “magic to do, just for you”.
For a three year old who lived in world of imagination and make believe, this was the perfect soundtrack. This was the opening song of Pippin the Musical, which opened and closed in the early 1970s. I would open the record booklet and see the pictures of players dressed in odd costumes, looking like they were having fun just being silly. I begged my parents to take me a performance, but the musical had fallen out of popularity and for years there wasn’t a professional production near us. When I heard that a revival of Pippin would be making its way to Broadway this year, I knew I had to go.
Pippin is loosely based on Charlemagne’s court in the late 700s. Charlemagne is historically recognized as the First Emperor of Western Europe since the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 400s. Pippin was Charlemagne’s heir to the throne, and is often portrayed with a hunchback. After leading an unsuccessful rebellion against his father, Pippin fell out of favor and was exiled for the rest of his life. Now I’m not going to lie, but even I (a history major) find this story bland.
The musical sets up the story of Pippin using an acting troupe of players. The musical breaks the fourth wall several times and encourages audience participation. In the musical theatre version, Pippin is still in favor and is desperately searching for a purpose to his life. The Leading Player directs the troupe throughout the various scenes of Pippin’s journey to self discovery. The Leading Player serves as encouragement, foil, and antagonist to Pippin.
To say I had high expectations is a severe understatement. This was the soundtrack of my childhood, and remains my mother’s favorite musical. The revival takes on a circus element with acrobats and illusions, which could go either way. The revival also chose to cast a female actor as the Leading Player as opposed the traditional male actor. Ben Vereen, who originated the role and won a Tony for his performance, was enigmatic and mysterious as the leader of this wandering troupe and left big shoes to fill.
Patina Miller, formerly of Sister Act, embodies the new Leading Player in this revival wholeheartedly and offers a fresh perspective to the role. She glides with ease through the classic Bob Fosse choreography, takes on the added acrobatics with complete confidence, and entices the audience into this magical world of illusion and self discovery. At one point she even sings just about an entire song while spinning a hula-hoop off of various body parts! Opposite her is Matthew James Thomas starring as Pippin. He was thoroughly convincing of a young man who desperately wants to find something that would give him purpose and fulfill him. As he sang the musical classic “Corner of the Sky”, you could feel the sincerity radiating from the stage.
The entire production was nonstop action from the opening silhouette of the Leading Player welcoming into this world of illusion to the final act— the troupe promise you’ll never forget. In a season packed with well done productions, this one stood out the most for me. I really can’t recommend this production enough and I hope everyone will give in to the magic.
Ready to plan your trip to see Pippin? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to get started. Better hurry, this is proving to be one hot ticket!