A theatre troupe emerges onstage, introducing the play (Magic To Do) that they will be performing called “Pippin: His Life and Times.” The troupe, led by Leading Player, promises the audience a grand finale. Pippin returns home from college in search for meaning and fulfillment in his life (Corner of the Sky.) He first approaches his father, Charlemagne, and decides to try finding fulfillment in the war against the infidel Visigoths (War Is A Science.) He goes to battle with his half-brother Lewis, who is an ideal soldier and next in line to the throne after Pippin (Glory.) Pippin discovers that he is not fit for battle. Leading Player intervenes, singing to the audience about Pippin’s first failure, suggesting that the audience is lucky that they don’t feel like he does (Simple Joys.) He visits his grandmother, who suggests that he start living by accepting his life for what it is (No Time At All.) Inspired by her comment that he try finding joy in women, he explores his sexuality with several women. However, he becomes overwhelmed when his intimate affairs with women turn quickly into an orgy with elements of homosexuality and sadomasochism (With You.)
Meanwhile, his stepmother Fastrada has been plotting to ensure that Lewis becomes king. When Leading Player gives Pippin a newspaper, he discovers that his father has been slaughtering people for their beliefs. He leads a revolution against Charlemagne’s tyranny. Fastrada convinces Charlemagne to pray at Arles the following month. She then tells Pippin that he will be praying, unguarded and alone in the chapel. Pippin seizes this opportunity to assassinate Charlemagne. Now king, Pippin finally feels as though his life’s purpose has been achieved and he will find fulfillment in ruling (Morning Glow.) Pippin discovers quickly that he is wrong. When hearing petitions from the peasants, he is unable to satisfy everyone’s desires and his own. He quickly becomes just as tyrannical as his father. Knowing this, he confesses to Leading Player that he wishes his father was still alive. Leading Player grants this wish. Charlemagne pulls the knife out of his chest and forgives Pippin. Leading Player attempts to convince Pippin that he is headed in the right direction, but Pippin quickly gives up (On The Right Track.)
Now feeling defeated and hopeless, Pippin lies on the ground, where Catherine, a widow and mother, finds him. She takes him in and uses her charm to convince him to stop lying in bed (Kind of Woman.) She and Pippin develop feelings for each other, but Leading Player intervenes because she has derailed from the script. She “naggingly” tells Pippin he must help her with the estate. Pippin lazily attends to the work that she asks him to do until he decides not to do it anymore (Extraordinary.) Catherine’s son Theo plunges into despair after his duck dies. With fervor, Pippin attempts to cheer up the boy by making him a flute and buying him a dog. Catherine and Pippin attempt and fail to have sex, but Pippin’s assertion that it will be better next time cements their relationship. They sing a love song (Love Song.) Catherine and Theo surprise Pippin with a dessert to celebrate the year that he has stayed with them. Catherine offers him the head of the table, which puts Pippin into a panic. Feeling as though there needs to be more than living on an estate, Pippin leaves. Catherine is devastated, but knows that she can go on without him. She demands time onstage to sing (I Guess I’ll Miss The Man.) Leading Player reprimands her for going off script, but she ignores it.
Leading Player announces that it is time for the grand finale. Pippin is meant to jump into a flame. All of the players coax Pippin into mounting the swing above the fire and just before jumping, he changes his mind (Finale.) Refusing to complete the finale, he gets down. Catherine and Theo come to comfort Pippin and he chooses to be with them. Furious, Leading Player strips the stage of all of its magic- sets, costumes, make-up, lights, and music. Leading Player tells the audience that any of them are capable of performing the finale. The players all exit and Pippin and Catherine stay together, leaving Theo onstage alone. He reprises “Corner Of The Sky,” indicating to the players that he may be the extraordinary person to complete the finale. They take to the stage humming the opening to “Magic To Do.”
Roger O. Hirson
Hirson was born in 1926. He wrote for television series such as The Armstrong Circle Theatre, Studio One, and Goodyear Television Playhouse through the 1940s and 50s. He made his Broadway debut in 1966 with Walking Happy, a musical for which he wrote the book. Schwartz brought him onto the Pippin team as the book writer for which he was nominated for the Tony Award Best Book of a Musical.
Schwartz is most celebrated for his work on Broadway with Godspell, Wicked, and Pippin. He also found success in the following years with productions of The Magic Show, The Baker’s Wife, and Children of Eden. In the 1990s, he began working for Disney alongside Alan Menken for Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He also wrote music for The Prince of Egypt and Enchanted. He has won three Academy Awards, the Isabelle Stevenson Award, three Grammy Awards, and he has been nominated for five Tony Awards.
THE DEVELOPMENT PROCESS
Pippin’s development began in the hands of Ron Strauss at Carnegie Mellon University in 1967. Strauss was developing a musical based on Charlemagne’s son Pepin. An eager college student, Stephen Schwartz, approached Strauss to become a collaborator on the score. On April 28, 1967, Pippin, Pippin premiered. After graduating, Schwartz felt that Pippin had a life outside of CMU, but Strauss decided not to continue with the project. Schwartz took to New York to find an agent- Shirley Bernstein. Bernstein then began the search for producers and a book-writer. Ultimately, Roger O. Hirson joined the team as the writer and Bob Fosse as the director.
A group of players in medieval France invite Charlemagne’s innocent son, Prince Pippin, to join them, luring him to an act of self-destruction that will fulfill his quest for the ultimate extraordinary experience.
Old Man, who leads the Players, introduces and ends show. Peregrinus Proteus inspired the fire imagery because he threw himself into a flaming pyre at the Olympic games in 165. Peregrinus performs a fire trick for Pippin, but fails, and the troupe moves on. The story continues without the Players’ involvement until Pippin leaves Catherine.
As the expanded creative team focused the musical, they explored ways the new Leading Player role and the show’s fire theme would fit together. They cut all references to Peregrinus and let the Players attempt to influence Pippin more directly. They decided that the Leading Player could be a companion for Pippin throughout the show, seductively luring him toward his demise.
Schwartz and Hirson begin to bump heads with Fosse, who ultimately had power because of his status. Fosse began to darken the show, make it dance-heavy, and removed the focus from Pippin to Leading Player. Fosse even attempted to cut “Kind of Woman” until Schwartz invoked the Dramatist Guild contract. The famous dispute between the writers and Fosse was over the ending of the show. Hirson wrote that Pippin said he felt, “Trapped, but happy.” Fosse believed this was a cop out and projected his own ending: “Trapped.”
“My issue with Bob Fosse was not the darkness of his vision,
but the tawdriness and the emphasis on bumps and grinds and cheap jokes.”
The show opened at a Washington Tryout on September 20, 1972 at the Kennedy Center. Even while the show was running, the Schwartz and Hirson were rewriting.
Pippin finally opened on Broadway on October 23, 1972. Fosse won the major battles over the production, but after the show closed, Schwartz returned the MTI licensing script to the vision that he and Hirson shared. The script has undergone several changes throughout the years, which you can explore here.
“Pippin became a semi-autobiographical quest or story about a young man in search of himself, and that got grafted onto this medieval setting,” Schwartz said. He and Pippin followed their post-college dreams together, trying to find the place where they belonged. As the play developed, Schwartz began to put more of himself in the story. He became aware of the political climate, interweaving his passion for the civil rights movement and anger towards the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon into Pippin.
Around the time he began finishing Pippin, he and his wife Carole were settling into their home in Connecticut, reflected in Pippin’s reluctance to settle down with Catherine, but ultimate decision that she was the most likely road to happiness. As Scott Miller explains, “Though it is set in Charlemagne’s France, it is about the here and now; sprinkled with anachronisms in the costumes and dialogue, it makes no pretense at actually being a period piece, despite its characters’ names. It is about America as much as The Music Man or Oklahoma!”
AUDIENCES & CRITICAL RESPONSES
Fosse’s choreography and staging were highly praised for inventiveness, but New York Times critic Clive Barnes found that Fosse’s work was heightened to cover up feeble book and bland music. Ben Vereen’s performance was so loved that critics correctly assumed it would make his career. The production of Pippin became so famous that it was not professionally performed until 2000.
“Pippin is almost entirely an exercise in style, an opening of the theatre’s box of toys without tearing the wrappings, deliberate as dance, disarming as sleight-of-hand. As such, recommended.”
Variety called the songs “passable.”
John Simon in New York said the music and lyrics had an “awkward and amateurish charm.”
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Choreography, Best Scenic Design, Best Lighting Design
Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Costume Design
Pippin ran for 1,944 performances- opening on October 23, 1972 and closing on June 12, 1977. Despite negative reviews of the music, the soundtrack has become a classic. “Corner of the Sky” was once a go-to audition song and soon the musical theatre lovers of the 1970s knew every word of the soundtrack. The music also spread beyond the world of theatre and into popular culture as Michael Jackson recorded his own version of “Morning Glow,” The Jackson 5 recorded “Corner of the Sky,” and The Supreme recorded “I Guess I’ll Miss The Man.”