PRODUCTION HISTORY 
Overview
  • The reviews were mostly negative in regards to the book and music, calling the music bland and the book plotless.

  • Magic To Do is a crucial selling point.

  • The highlight of the show is usually “No Time At All” and occasionally “Spread A Little Sunshine.”

  • Do not cast Berthe too young and miss the point of “No Time At All.”

  • Nearly all reviews begin with a reference to the 1972 production, meaning that it is impossible to escape this comparison. The best productions find something in between Fosse and a new concept, playing on the memory. Critics are disappointed by productions that attempt to copy Fosse and productions that take their concepts too far.

  • Many productions miss the point about self-destruction and instead leave audiences with the idea of finding joy in the simple life, which was strongly opposed by Fosse. Many productions also accuse the show of being light-hearted and sentimental, but it is actually very cynical and dark.

 

Read my full summary here.

Timeline

Download a printable, quick-reference timeline here.

 
1972, Broadway Tryout, Washington, DC
  • Director: Bob Fosse

  • Stars: Ben Vereen, John Rubinstein

  • Notable: Well received by critics, even the book and music.

 

Review: “Stephen Schwartz’s music and lyrics are so tuneful and polished and the production so dazzling and varied, that Pippin is neither pretentious nor precious.” –Variety

 
1972, Broadway, NYC
  • Director: Bob Fosse

  • Stars: Ben Vereen

  • Notable: Fosse’s signature style of staging and choreography made this production so successful despite critical reception of the book and lyrics.

  • Awards:

    • Tony Wins- Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Choreography, Best Scenic Design, Best Lighting Design

    • Tony Nominations- 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

 

Review: Clive Barnes predicts that Leading Player will make Ben Vereen’s career. He critiques the book, lyrics, and music as lacking innovation, being predictable, and being uninteresting. Barnes was impressed by Fosse’s staging and choreography for bringing interest to the story, “art, and imagination.” He also praised the set and costume design  for successfully combining Medieval and chic. In terms of casting, he found the performances by Eric Berry, John Rubentaein, and Jill Clayburgh successful, but Irene Ryan as Berthe as a showstopper.

 
1973, West End, London
  • Director: Fosse

  • Stars: Northern J. Calloway

  • Notable: Less than 100 performances

 

Review: “The book begs to be forgotten. The songs don’t hang around too long in your head.” -Jack Tinker, Daily Telegraph

 
1974, Her Majesty’s Theater, Melbourne, Australia
  • Stars: Johnny Farken, Colleen Hewett

  • Notable: Book returned to Schwartz’s concept

 

Review: “just a shadow of the original” -Clive Barnes

 
1978, Coachlight
  • Director: Cash Baxter, Lynn Gannaway

  • Notable: 3 Acts, 2 Intermissions, stripped stage

 

Review: Haskel Frankel recounts the 1972 production, specifically Fosse’s dance and staging. He says that Fosse created a disguise for an otherwise boring story. The Coachlight production divided the show into three acts and removed embellishing staging. The stripped down production was brighter and lighter. He commends Ronald Young for his slithering Leading Player and David Morgan for his youthful passion. “No Time At All” is a showstopper. The best vocalist played Charles.

 
1981, Ontario, Canada
  • Director: Bob Fosse

  • Stars: Ben Vereen, William Kat, Chita Rivera

  • Notable: Video recorded, 1 Intermission 

 

Review: This review comes three years later for a scheduled showing of Fosse’s Toronto recording from 1981. O’Connor says that the book and music are innocent and overly anti-war. Though enjoying Vereen’s performance, he says that Vereen’s has not grown or done anything but recycle this role since 1972. He boasts of Chita Rivera and Ben Rayson, but he was unimpressed by William Katt and Martha Raye. He says that the musical does not read through the recording as the audience can barely be heard laughing or applauding, deadening the performance.

 
1982, Downtown Cabaret Theater, Bridgeport
  • Director: Judith Lisi, Sandy Quinn

  • Notable: Not well received due to a “boobish” performance from Jim Jeppi as Pippin.

 

Review: Haskel Frankel begins by referencing the 1972 production and providing a synopsis of the musical. He argues that the musical is repetitive and mixes genre oddly. However, he liked this production better than the 1972 because of the added intermission and casual atmosphere. He praised Sandy Quinn’s choreography for it’s uniqueness and nods toward Fosse. He next reviews the cast, finding Arlene Dean (Catherine) annoying, Jim Jeppi (Pippin) “boobish,”  and Clayton Strong (Leading Player) very strong. Frankel says that Leading Player follows Pippin aimlessly, so either Frankel has misinterpreted every production he has seen, or this production missed the point of Leading Player’s manipulation.

 
1989, Springfield Community Theatre
  • Director: Jim Newman,

  • Notable: Theo played by girl. Best moment- “Spread a Little Sunshine.”

 

Review: Mikel Lambert begins by discussing the original production, accusing it of lacking a song you can whistle all day. Most of the review consists of a plot summary with details from the production and comments on performances, all of which were impressive. He found “Spread a Little Sunshine” the best moment of the show. He commended the ensemble, calls the show plotless, and concludes that Fosse used spectacle to cover weak story and characters.

 
1998, Bridgewell Theatre, London fringe
  • Director: Mitch Sebastian

  • Notable: The “Theo Ending” is performed for the first time.

 
2000, Paper Mill Playhouse
  • Director: Robert Johanson

  • Notable: First professional production in New York area since the Original Broadway production. Berthe uses a wheelchair.

  • Concept: Nightclub, techno music, and hard drugs

 

Review: Robert Daniels begins by referencing the 1972 production. He then describes the concept of this production, set behind a dance club with punk costuming and “unimaginative” choreography. He argues that without magic, the show lacks thrill. Daniels found Jim Newman unimpressive as Leading Player for his lack of nuance. He was also disappointed by “No Time At All,” the show’s usual showstopper. Ed Dixon (Charlemagne) missed much of the role’s humor.

 
2004, World AIDS Day Concert, NYC
  • Stars: Ben Vereen, Rosie O’Donnell, Laura Bennanti

  • Notable: Concert with many stars as Leading Player. Raised $93,000.

 
2005, Bay Street Theatre
  • Director: Jack Hofsiss

  • Stars: B.D. Wong

  • Notable: Fiercely political and bloody. Berthe uses a wheelchair. B.D. Wong (Leading Player) is Asian-American. There is no mention of this in the review, so it is possible to cast non-African-American.

 

Review: In a brief overview, Carol de Giere says that this production brought new life to the show. With a new ending, a successful combination of ancient and modern. The cast was doubled using only eight actors, who maintained energy throughout. She was particularly impressed by David Larsen (Pippin) and Larry Keith (Charlemagne.) She also found new hope in the performances by Anastasia Barzee (Catherine) and Stephanie Pope Caffey (Fastrada) for finding motivation in their roles. B.D. Wong (Leading Player) lacked energy. The choreography was hit or miss.

 
2006, Goodspeed Opera House
  • Director: Gabriel Barre

  • Stars: Mickey Dolenz

  • Notable: Metal town hall clock set, asexual and non-Fosse style

 

Review: Frank Rizzo was disenchanted by the production’s use of “theater tricks.” Rizzo was complimentary of the shows music, lyrics, and choreography. He noticed that the show began with a stylistic hodge podge and slowly dropped this, allowing for human and intimate moments to emerge in Act 2. In terms of performances, he felt most actors missed the mark in terms of poor singing, missing humor, and playing one-note characters. He was most impressed by Shannon Lewis (Fastrada) and James Royve Edwards (Lewis.)  Because the production was touring, he found the staging problematic as the set centerpiece took up most of the stage.

 
2009, Deaf West, Los Angeles
  • Director: Jeff Callhoun

  • Stars: Michael Arden

  • Notable: Incorporates American Sign Language in choreography. Two actors (one deaf, one hearing) play Pippin. Set and costumes use metal and leather.

 

Review: Charles Isherwood references Fosse’s famous jazz hands, introducing the ASL concept for the show. As a result, he concludes that this show fits comfortably into Jeff Calhoun’s concept. He acknowledges the challenge of staging a show whose original production has become famous. This production has abandoned the Middle Ages aspect for a sleek, metal and leather design. The concept stages Pippin being divided into two selves, played by one hearing actor and one hearing-impaired actor. Isherwood finds that this embraces the concept of the show and the core of the book: Pippin's inner conflict. The integration of sign language only adds to the production.

 
2011, London
  • Director: Mitch Sebastian

  • Stars: Frances Ruffelle

  • Notable:

  • Concept: Cyberspace- merging theatrical and virtual

 

Review: Charles Spencer found the book and music “unbearable.” He notes that the British have never been fans of the musical. This production tried to make the story relevant by using a video game concept in which a gamer is sucked into a game and must play Pippin. Spencer says that the design was made of CGI, lasers, and aliens from Dr. Who. On the performances, he found Harry Hepple (Pippin) and Matt Rawle (Leading Player) weak, but Frances Ruffellle (Berthe) the strongest of the ensemble.

 

2012, Kansas City
  • Director: Eric Rosen

  • Stars: Mary Testa

  • Notable: Punk style production. *Fun fact, a photo from this production is used as the cover of a Stephen Schwartz biography.

 

Review: Victor Wishna begins by referencing the original production. In comparison, this punk production is rejuvenating. After summarizing the story, he notes that Pippin is relatable in this millennium… and all. Wishna picks up on the nature of the story being inside Pippin’s head that many reviewers miss. He says that the highlight of the show is Mary Testa’s “No Time At All,” closely followed by “Spread A Little Sunshine.” The production used the performers as musicians, which Wishna says made a dramatic impact. He found the choreography out of the ordinary and therefore, exciting. The show featured a new arrangement, which enhanced the score.

 
2012, Cambridge, ART
  • Director: Diane Paulus

  • Stars: Andrea Martin, Patina Miller

  • Notable: Circus Troupe, First Broadway revival, Leading Player cast as a woman

 

Review: Jeffrey Gantz begins with historical references, mentioning the original production, and a plot summary. He describes the opening moment as “self-conscious” and “dismantling,” but finds that once the curtain has been lifted to reveal the circus inside, the production “delivers.” He then lists several of the staging moment in the production including Pippin spelled with bodies, a human jump rope, levitation, etc. He found Patina Miller (Leading Player),  Matthew James Thomas (Pippin), Rachel Bay Jones (Catherine), and Terrence Mann (Charles) particularly strong.

 
2013, Broadway Revival, NYC
  • Director: Diane Paulus

  • Stars: Andrea Martin, Patina Miller

  • Notable: Circus Troupe, First Broadway revival

  • Awards:

    • Tony Wins- Best Revival of a Musical, Best Actress in a Musical, Best Featured Actress in a Musical, Best Direction of a Musical

    • Tony Nominations- Best Featured Actor in a Musical, Best Choreography, Best Scenic Design of a Musical, Best Costume Design of a Musical, Best Lighting Design of a Musical, Best Sound Design of a Musical

 

Review: Ben Brantley says that the production is trying too hard with all of the tricks of the stage to keep audiences with shorter attention spans invested in a boring story. He credits Paulus with knowing that the story needs to be “camouflaged” but criticized the production for being “sensory assault.” He then discusses the 1972 production. He notes the connection to Fosse’s choreography through Chet Walker, who was a dancer in the original production. He says that the best moment is Andrea Martin’s “No Time At All.” He criticizes Patina Miller for being unlikeable as Leading Player. He praises Rachel Bay Jones’ portrayal of Catherine for its heart.

 

Review: “Diane Paulus’ Broadway revival of the 1972 musical is massively, almost overwhelmingly entertaining, even if its audacious razzle-dazzle doesn’t mask the limitations of its book.” David Rooney finds that the show gives audiences the ability to connect with the show. After providing a synopsis and referencing Fosse, Rooney calls “Magic to Do” a knockout, Patina Miller “intoxicating,” and Chet Walker’s choreography thrilling.” He credits “No Time At All” as the “most joyously exhilarating five minutes of stage time on Broadway.” Other positives include the rest of the ensemble, the circus performers, and the design team.

 
2014, US National Tour
  • Director: Diane Paulus

  • Stars: John Rubenstein, Sasha Allen

  • Notable: Circus Troupe

 

Review: Chris Jones opens by referencing the 1972 production. He says that the audience’s love for the show resulted in tangible enthusiasm in the seats. Jones found positives in the music and lyrics, design, and concept of the show, which heightens the stakes. Performances by Adrienne Barbeau (Berthe) and Sasha Allen (Leading Player) were “wonderful,” but Sam Lips as Pippin and Kristine Reese as Catherine lacked complexity and connection. The quality of the tour is lower than the Broadway production as pieces were eliminated and cheapened to travel easily.

 

Review: A year later, in Philadelphia, Wendy Rosenfield notes attempts to modernize, provides a plot synopsis, and references Fosse. Of the performances, she says that Gabrielle McClinton’s Leading Player is vocally weak, Brian Flores’ Pippin endearing, and Adrienne Barbeau’s “Not Time At All” showstopping. Like other reviews, she says that the packaging of the boring story makes the production.

 
2017, 2nd US National Tour
  • Director: Diane Paulus

  • Notable: Circus Troupe

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