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Theatre / Pippin

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The cast recording of the 1972 production.

Pippin is a 1972 musical written by Stephen Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson. It tells the story of the young son of Charlemagne desperately looking for a place to belong.

Actually, it doesn't.

The show is 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, 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 satisfying 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." In plays following the lead of the revival, Pippin and Catherine then leave the stage, but Theo lingers, admiring the discarded set. He then begins a reprise of "Corner of the Sky", which causes the Players to reappear and join him. Well, they said they wouldn't be far away, after all.

Pippin's original Broadway production — which was directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse and featured a cast including Ben Vereen, John Rubinstein, Eric Berry, Leland Palmer, Irene Ryan and Jill Clayburgh — ran for 1,944 performances over nearly five years. It was revived on Broadway in 2013.

This work provides examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: Fastrada's scheme to install Lewis as heir to the throne instead of Pippin. Both this plot and the entire royal family are dropped near the top of Act 2, never to return.
  • 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.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Lewis is often played this way. Some productions cast a gay actor as Lewis to enhance this.
    • For a different interpretation of Lewis's sexuality, see Incest Subtext.
  • Arc Words: The lines "Rivers belong where they can ramble/eagles belong where they can fly" prominently appear in both "Corner of the Sky" and "Finale."
  • Artistic License – History: Historical accuracy is completely beside the point, in this case. The troupe offers a Handwave by dispelling "myths" about Pippin at the beginning of the play.
  • Audience Participation Song: Berthe asks the audience to sing along with her in the choruses of "No Time At All" (except for the last one, which she insists on taking by herself). This is usually facilitated by having a large sheet with the lyrics for the chorus drop down from the ceiling.
  • Audience Surrogate: Pippin is a type 1 and 3.
  • Bad News in a Good Way: A scene where couriers come on to report cheerfully such news as: "Peasants revolt. King slays thousands."
  • Becoming the Mask: Happens to the actor who plays Pippin in the play within a play. He becomes obsessed with finding a unique purpose in life, like the character he plays, to the point where he contemplates suicide at the players' behest.
  • Betty and Veronica: Catherine and the Leading Player in the 2013 revival.
  • Bright Is Not Good
  • BSoD Song: Pippin's final song.
  • Call to Agriculture: This is what Pippin ends up settling for. Not that he's not happy with it.
  • Catchphrase:
  • The Chessmaster / Manipulative Bastard: Leading Player controls everything that goes on in the play. Everything.
  • Circus of Fear: The framework of the 2013 Broadway revival, which features performers from the Canadian circus troupe Les 7 Doigts de la Main.
  • Coming of Age Story: Definitely one for Pippin. Though not in the way you might think...
  • 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 like this. Despite the fact that 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.
  • Cross-Cast Role: Original Cast Precedent has the Leading Player as male, but numerous productions, including the 2013 Broadway revival, have cast females. Aside from the changing of keys, it doesn't make much difference. Ben Vereen (in the 1970's) and Patina Miller (in 2013) have the distinction of the first time a man and a woman have each won a Tony for the same role.
  • 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 Is Evil: The Leading Player wears a black costume.
  • 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.
  • Deliberately Cute Child: "Enter Theo! A small lovable boy, with a large, lovable duck!"
  • Dead Artists Are Better: Pippin decides against becoming an artist because "you have to die before you find out if you were any good."note 
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: Pippin — emphasis on the desperately.
  • Devil in Disguise: Turns out to be The Leading Player — most of the players, actually.
  • Driven to Suicide: In the late going, the Leading Player and most of the cast are revealed to want Pippin to reach this point.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: With one line — "Why, we're right inside your heads!" — the entire play takes on a new meaning.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Leading Player doesn't have a name.
  • Evil Matriarch: Fastrada.
  • Follow the Bouncing Ball: At least in the 1973 production, the audience is given the lyrics to the participation song "No Time At All," and a bouncing ball indicates which lyric the audience should be singing at that time.
  • For the Evulz: Let's face it, if Leading Player has any other motivation for killing Pippin(s), we don't know it. Word of God is that the lead player isn’t evil per se, and more represents the desire for fame and recognition, that can lead to self destructive behavior if left unchecked.
  • Foreshadowing: The opening lines of "No Time at All" foreshadow how the players intend for Pippin to die.
    Berthe: When you are as old as I, my dear... and I hope that you never are.
  • Glory Seeker: At one point, Pippin takes after his Miles Gloriosus half-brother and becomes a glory-seeking warrior, but it doesn't take long for him to become disillusioned.
  • The Good King: Pippin tries to become this, but it turns out to be much harder than it looks.
  • Harmful to Minors: In the second ending, featured in the 2013 production, Theo is lured back to the world of the players that seems to have claimed the lives of numerous "Pippins" in the past.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Arguably, Catherine, when she interrupts Pippin's suicide during the grand finale.
    • Or possibly even earlier when she married ignores the Leading Player and sings "I Guess I'll Miss the Man" despite it not being in the script.
  • Historical Beauty Update: In real life, Pippin is known as Pippin the Hunchback, but there is no mention of Pippin's deformity in the musical.
  • Historical Domain Character: The entire cast except Catherine, Theo, and the Leading Player are historical figures, Charlemagne being the most notable. The main character Pippin is the firstborn son of the major character Charlemagne. Charlemagne has a son Lewis, a wife Fastrada, and a mother Berthe. These characters are derived from Charlemagne, his oldest son Pippin the Hunchback, his son Louis, his third wife Fastrada, and his mother Bertrada.
  • "I Am" Song: "Kind of Woman" for Catherine, "Spread A Little Sunshine" for Fastrada, and "Extraordinary" for Pippin.
  • "I Am Great!" Song: "Kind Of Woman" is of the rare humblebrag variety.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: Kind of the point of "Extraordinary".
  • Incest Subtext: Due to Original Cast Precedent, between Lewis and Fastrada. It's usually shown more through choreography and subtext than dialogue.
  • 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.
  • Jerkass: Pippin, as Catherine observes in "I Guess I'll Miss the Man", qualifies as one.
    Catherine: Some days he wouldn't say a pleasant word all day. Some days he'd scowl and curse, but there were other days when he was even... really worse.
  • Just the First Citizen: 'Leading Player' is a pretty benign title for someone doing what (s)he's doing.
  • 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."
  • Mating Dance: The "dance as metaphor" variety.
  • Mentor Archetype: Leading Player would like Pippin to think he's one. See Treacherous Advisor.
  • Midword Rhyme:
    • In "Magic to Do".
      Journey, journey to a spot ex-
      -citing, mystic and exotic
      Journey through our anecdotic revue
    • In "On the Right Track":
      But what I've left behind looks trifl-
      -ing, what's ahead looks black
      Am I doomed to spend my life-a-l-
      -ingering on?
  • Miles Gloriosus: Lewis, a strong but stupid type who likes wearing shiny breastplates, swinging a sword around, and boasting about the number of enemies slain by his hand.
  • Minor Character, Major Song: Berthe not only has just one song, she appears in only one scene.note  However, "No Time At All" is such a showstopper that it pretty much guarantees the actress will get to bring down the house.
  • Monster Clown: The true nature of all of the players save for Pippin, Theo, and Catherine.
  • Morality Ballad: "Simple Joys".
  • 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 traditionally barefoot, with the 2013 revival one of the few exceptions.
    • Averted with the Leading Player, whose original actor, Ben Vereen, is an African-American man. The role has since been played not only by men of different ethnicities, but also several women, including Rosie O'Donnell and Patina Miller, who won a Tony award for her performance in 2013.
  • 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."
    • Lampshaded in the 2013 revival 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 suicide by self-immolation.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Charlemagne is shown leading his troops to battle, and even Pippin tries to do something during his brief stint as king.
  • Self-Immolation: The fate intended for Pippin, as the Grand Finale.
  • Sexy Jester: Some of the female players. Possibly the Leading Player depending on the production and how they choose to dress him.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: The role of Berthe, Pippin's grandmother, is only featured in one scene, totaling about 10 minutes of stage time, most of which is spent singing her only song "No Time at All." However, the role has still been played by many well-known actresses over the years (including the role's legendary originator, Irene Ryan) and Andrea Martin even won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for playing the role in 2013.
  • 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.
  • Tenor Boy: Pippin.
  • Treacherous Advisor: It's the Leading Player, and in a way his cohorts too.
  • Uncanny Valley Makeup: Some productions use this, particularly on the ensemble cast, to pretty creepy effect.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Given that the narrator in this case is a Reality Warper who's trying to get Pippin to commit suicide it's unclear just how much of the story is even real.
  • The Vamp: Fastrada by default. Also, productions with a female Leading Player tend to portray her this way.
  • Villain Song: "Spread A Little Sunshine" for Fastrada. Surprisingly, the play's true villain, The Leading Player, doesn't really get one. The closet thing he gets is "Magic To Do", but even then he’s not explicitly outlining his plans.
  • Villainous Breakdown: The Leading Player absolutely loses it when Pippin refuses to perform the final act, leading to an enraged monologue in which the entire set is struck.
  • 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.

"Pippin... how do you feel?"
"Troped, but happy... which isn't too bad for a wiki page about a musical comedy! Ta da!"