I don’t want to play the “once upon a time in high school” card, but once upon a time in high school, I was in a play called Pippin that nobody understood. Pippin is this weird, red-headed stepchild of musical theater that is often done poorly and without any real understanding of the show itself, usually by high schools. By the time I was in it, I had seen it twice already, both times disastrously misinterpreted and its weirdness taken way too literally.
I liked Pippin, but I didn’t get it until I was in it. The concept of our production, as dreamed up by my nothing-less-than-brilliant drama teacher, I believe is how the show is meant to be done. Pippin is not a literal play by any means. It is meta-theatrical, bizarre, and difficult, not because it has challenging acting or complex vocal parts, but because the entire show is a balancing act between trying to be real and knowing if you try to be real, this will make no sense.
Last night, I saw Pippin for the first time in a long time at American Repertory Theater (ART) here in Boston. The show is currently doing a run until January 20, and will then transfer to Broadway in the spring. I have been seeing posters for Pippin for months, but, until they announced they were going to Broadway and I could no longer resist, I made a conscious decision not to go because I, in my infinite theatrical pretentiousness, was certain that nobody ever does Pippin right.
Oh, wait. Except ART totally did.
Pippin is about a young man1 who goes on a journey to find meaning and fulfillment in his life. His ‘corner of the sky,’ if you will. As you can imagine, the show resonates with a lot of people because that is basically everybody’s life story. Unless of course that beautiful message gets lost in all the weirdness of the actual show itself. Because there is lots of weird stuff that goes down in Pippin. He has a conversation with a disembodied head, he kills his dad and then brings him back to life, he kills a little boy’s duck, then somebody lights themselves on fire. Yeah. It’s awesome.
But back to the beautiful message. Because it really is. And every time I see this show or think about this show or remember being in this show, it still gets me right where I live. ART took Pippin to a different level than I had considered it before, and used it as a commentary on our generation, where everyone gets to be famous for fifteen minutes. In a world where everyone seems to think they are extraordinary, is anyone? And how far are we willing to go to feel that we have reached our full potential and found our corner of the sky?
ART did their production of Pippin in conjunction with a circus troupe whose name has escaped me and my playbill is all the way across the room. This may be the most correct and genius way to interpret this show2. Each of Pippin’s “stages” in his journey was interpreted as a different circus act. There was a magician section, a lion tamer, a knife thrower. And then a whole lot of acrobats. The blend of circus and musical was just about genius. I usually don’t go in for giant spectacle shows, but this time it worked because there was a purpose behind the spectacle. They were using these flashy tricks3 to highlight the smoke and mirrors that is the entire show, until the end, which hits you like a punch in the face.
Anyways, this is basically just me gushing over Pippin. It took me an hour to get to Harvard Square yesterday4, then I stood in line for another forty-five minutes to get standing room5 only tickets, and it was worth it! It was worth standing up for two and a half hours. Worth totally ruining my hair in the rain. Worth overshooting my lunch break by a good half hour. Worth it worth it worth it the show was so good7!
This entire post is a lot less eloquent and insightful than I hoped it would be, mostly because I am just so overcome with this production that I have been reduced to a stammering mess. Thank you for listening to me go totally nutburgers over this show. I can’t tell you how lucky I feel to have seen so much incredible theater that has made me feel so deeply.
- Named Pippin, in case you’re slow.
- Though one of the abysmal productions I saw also tried to do this…it worked less well. The reason theirs worked, I think, was because of what a high level of circus-ness they took it to.
- THEY WERE SO AMAZING!
- In the rain/sleet
- This is the second time I’ve done standing room only tickets in my life, and I appreciate the fact that at ART, they at least have a rail for us to lean on. The West End was less kind about that, though we did get a wall there, and a killer production of Much Ado staring David Tenant and Catherine Tate of Doctor Who fame 6.
- I think I am the only person in the world who discovered Doctor Who because of Shakespeare, instead of the other way around.
- Also, there were randomly a ton of Broadway stars in it! Which caused me to have a total Broadway nerd freak out in the lobby. Andrea Martin! Charlotte D’Amboise! Terrance Mann8! Patina Miller! Mattew James Thomas! Google these people if you don’t know who they are because they are awesome!