Pippin is a musical written by Stephen Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson and directed by Bob Fosse. It tells the story of the young son of Charlemagne desperately looking for a place to belong.Actually, it doesn't.The show is basically a Play Within a Play performed by a friendly (but slightly creepy) group of players led by the mysterious Leading Player. The players tell the audience that their show is building up to a fantastic Grand Finale, but don't give any information about what the Finale actually is. The Leading Player introduces us to the actor playing Pippin, who is apparently a new member of the troupe, playing Pippin for the first time. Pippin is very desperately searching for a purpose in life, and wants to find something completely fulfilling. Over the course of the show Pippin experiments with war, sex, revolution, art, religion and love, screwing up at everything or finding it unfulfilling. As the show goes on, the audience (hopefully) starts to question the motives of the Players, who become steadily more bizarre and scary.But just when Pippin is feeling most desperate, he meets a young widow named Catherine, and her son, Theo. Catherine is one of the Players, but she seems different from the rest of them, and actually cares a great deal about Pippin. This frustrates and confuses the Leading Player. This isn't how Catherine's part is supposed to go. Pippin starts to work on Catherine's very ordinary estate and becomes a part of her and her son's very ordinary lives. Eventually, of course, he and Catherine fall in love, and it seems like they could actually live together happily. But Pippin, with some provocation from the Leading Player, decides that simply living with and loving someone isn't glamourous enough for him, and he runs away from the two.When he's failed at everything, the players reappear, saying that the only truly satisifying thing in the world is their Grand Finale. All for the audience's entertainment, of course. But right when it looks like Pippin is about to do it, he realizes that nothing in the world is truly perfect — and joins Catherine when she and Theo reappear. The Leading Player throws a temper tantrum and tells the Players to take down all the sets, costumes, lights, and makeup on Pippin and Catherine, but nothing deters them. Finally, the Players leave after saying that if any of the audience members should wish to perform their perfect act, they'll always be waiting. Pippin finds himself on an empty stage, prepared to live out the rest of his life in the most ordinary way of all, feeling "trapped, but happy."And no, it has nothing to do with hobbits.
Now, I could waylay some aging roué And persuade him to play in some cranny, But it's hard to believe I'm being led astray By a man who calls me Granny!
Aerith and Bob: Charlemagne, Fastrada, Pippin...and Lewis, Theo and Catherine
Semi-justified, as Charlemagne, Fastrada, Lewis and Pippin are versions of the historical figures with those names. Theo and Catherine were created for the musical, but their names are plausible for the time period.
Conversation Casualty: Charles is killed by Pippin, disguised as a monk, at the end of a conversation about the meaning of empire.
Cool Old Lady: Berthe to a T, at least in the Play Within A Play. The performer joins the rest of the troupe in encouraging Pippin's Grand Finale.
Creepy Circus Music: The opening song "Magic To Do" sounds pretty much like this. Despite the fact the Players are desperately trying to entertain and appear as friendly as possible, and the lyrics are upbeat and cheery, the music just doesn't sound quite right.
Cue the Sun: Disturbingly warped in the final scene. The Players tell Pippin to "think about the sun" as they bring on a backdrop depicting the sun and a lot of stage lighting as encouragement for him to commit Self Immolation.
Cut Song: "Marking Time" was replaced by "Extraordinary", but its tune remained in the show as the underscoring for a romantic moment.
Dark Reprise: The first time Pippin sings "Corner of the Sky", it's full of hope and determination. Throughout the show, it is reprised more and more desperately each time he gives up on something, culminating during the Finale, as he prepares to light himself on fire In the revised ending, there is one more less desperate but extremely eerie reprise sung by Theo, returning to the stage in the hope of finding his own purpose with the help of the Players.
It's All About Me: Pippin. When you think about it, this is really the whole point of the show. He has a freakin' song just about how special he thinks he is. Notably, the first action that he takes in the show that isn't about his own fulfillment ("Prayer for a Duck", which he sings after deciding that life at Catherine's manor is too ordinary for him) ends up forming the connection to Catherine and Theo that allows him to find an alternative to death at the end.
"I Want" Song: "Corner of the Sky" is Pippin's, and one of the best examples of the trope.
Large Ham: Ben Vereen impressed the producers with his audition so much that the role of the Leading Player was created for him out of what was previously two smaller, less important roles. The Hamminess of the Leading Player has continued ever since.
Lemony Narrator: The Leading Player in spades! He definitely has an agenda of his own, often makes comments on the actions of the other players and as we eventually realize, is a very fleshed-out character.
Losing Your Head: Pippin has a poignant conversation with the head of a fallen Visigoth soldier. In a later scene, after Pippin has been crowned king, a headless man comes up to him and asks for his head to be reattached.
The Magnificent: After Pippin is crowned king, the Leading Player dubs him "King Pippin, the Charitable" for distributing money to the poor, "King Pippin, the Just" for giving land to the peasants, and "King Pippin, the Peaceful" for abolishing taxation and the army. Then, when the threat of war forces Pippin to suspend all these reforms, Fastrada dubs him "King Pippin, the Unpopular."
No Fourth Wall: When the title character's very first words are a request to have some more lighting, it's clear that the Fourth Wall is going to be transparent at best.
No Serious Business In Show Business: The songs, the poster, even the characters will try and convince you this is a musical comedy "coming of age" tale. It's not. Lampshaded when Pippin says "And this isn't a bad ending for a musical comedy" at the end.
Original Cast Precedent: The original actor for Pippin had absolutely no luck with the costume department in regards to shoes. He could never find a pair of shoes that were comfortable, so one night, fed up, he decided to do the whole show barefoot. It wasn't easy. In his dressing room after the curtain call, Bob Fosse came in. The actor prepared himself for a grovelling apology, but instead Fosse gushed, "I love it! Barefoot! Gives you that innocence." Since then, Pippin is always barefoot.
Except in the 2013 revival.
Our Acts Are Different: Pippin was originally written in one act, but most regional productions insert an intermission.
In some productions, it's placed immediately after Pippin kills Charlegmagne. The second act then picks up exactly where the first act ended, and "Morning Glow" is used as an opening number.
The version from Music Theatre International places an intermission after Charles is raised with an Act I Finale. Act II opens with On The Right Track.
The 2013 revival ends Act I with "Morning Glow," and Act II begins with an entr'acte, and a jazzy reprise of "Glory" designed for "Pippin The Great."
Also lampshaded in the 2013 when the Leading Player remarks that "attention spans are shorter than they used to be" at the end of Act I.
Patter Song: oh, "War Is A Science," why are you so cool?
It gets better. In the revival, Pippin seems to be wasting so much time for his dad with his "And then the men go marching" choruses that he actually has to speed up the remaining choruses!
Rape, Pillage, and Burn: After Charles defeats the Visigoths in battle, he says that it's time for his men to rape and sack. "Oh yes, it's required."
"And we have to sing too, that's absolutely essential." What a charming musical comedy.
Reset Button: When Pippin regrets assassinating his father, the Leading Player allows him to undo it.
Charlemagne [cheerfully]: It's alright, son. Just don't let it happen again!
The Reveal: The "perfect act" that is the Grand Finale is self-immolation.
Terms of Endangerment: The Leading Player often calls Pippin "baby" and his last line is, "You try singing without music, sweetheart." He seems to do it more and more as the play goes on, ESPECIALLY in the Grand Finale.
Uncanny Valley Makeup: Some productions use this, particularly on the ensemble cast, to pretty creepy effect.
The Vamp: Fastrada, productions with a female Leading Player tend to portray her this way.
Villain Song: "Spread A Little Sunshine" for Fastrada. Suprisingly the play's true villain, The Leading Player, doesn't really get one.
Although, out of context, "Spread a Little Sunshine" is just a nice, catchy tune about the golden rule.
Xanatos Gambit: A basic one is set up by Fastrada. She encourages Charles to attend his annual prayer, where he will be unguarded. Under the pretense of conciliation, she then tells Pippin where Charles will be, and when. If Pippin assassinates Charles, Lewis will be next in line to the throne. If Pippin is caught and executed, Lewis will be next in line to the throne.