Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars
How have I never heard of “Pippin”? Even musicals I don’t like, I’ve heard of or I’ve unfortunately seen. The name Pippin conjures up the British boy, Pip, from the TV show “South Park”. So maybe my brain is simply confusing the misfortunes of a TV show character with this musical, because that’s the only thing I could think about before the curtain came up. It’s a shame too because my brain should only think of this musical when hearing “Pippin” from now on. “Pippin” is undoubtedly the best musical, show, and stage production I have ever seen at Starlight.
“Pippin” is a difficult story to unravel. It has so many layers, but the revelations and showcase of each individual layer is what makes this musical a joy to watch. So without giving too much of the story away, “Pippin” obvious follows the tale of a boy named Pippin. He is the noble son of King Charles. He’s frustrated because nothing in life that’s holding his attention or giving him a thrill. He’s the next in line to the throne and there are plenty of different paths for him to choose.
I know, it doesn’t sound like the most exciting or original of stories, but this is a story that’s told through a narrator, or as the bill calls it, the leading player. This person serves the narrative, the fourth wall breaking (to be fair, there’s a lot of fun breaking the fourth wall in this), and the magical guide for Pippin on his life. Sure Pippin’s pulled this way and that way, but the leading player serves as a compass for Pippin. Without the leading player, he may as well settle into being a knight, or a ruthless king, or a wandering hedonist.
“Pippin” goes against every musical convention I’ve come to expect. Most don’t acknowledge or much less tell the audience what to do. OK, maybe “Spamalot” does, but “Pippin” plays with the idea that this is a story in a very meta way. It acknowledges there’s a script, there’s a story, there’s a climax and that there’s an inevitable end, but in a way that both serves the fact that this is a musical and serves the fictional world of Pippin.
It could easily be convoluted, but it’s handled very well and clearly. As for the meaning or theme, it’s definitely in the eye of the beholder. I have my own, just like I’m sure many others will. “Pippin” is a critique against trying to find greater meaning in life when the real meaning can easily be right in front of you. It likes to say that it’s easy to lose focus of what makes us happy and it’s hard to simply accept what makes us happy. In a melancholy way though, there is no escape from this never ending process for humans and may just be part of our worldly experience.
As for the performances, they were stellar. The stunts performed in this production would put the Ringling Brothers out of business. The tricks and sleight of hands were unexpected, never cheap, and inspired child like magic in some of the oldest of those in attendance. The music is funky, with a big band twist, it’s also symphonically generic, but in a good way, and at times it has echoes of aged top 40 pop music. No moment is wasted and no ensemble set piece ever feels forced.
“Pippin” is a tony award winning musical, and for good reason. It’s easy to see why something so intricate and grand would be hard for high schools, small community theaters, and others to try and replicate. After watching this wonderful production, I can’t imagine watching it on a smaller stage or within the confines of a smaller production. Just like an eye popping summer blockbuster, “Pippin” must be experienced on a big stage with the best of the biz.