'Pippin' is back, and surrounded by Broadway buzz
This undated publicity photo provided by American Repertory Theater shows Patina Miller as the Leading Player in a production of "Pippin," at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass. (AP Photo/ American Repertory Theater, Michael J. Lutch)
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — "Everything has its season, everything has its time," goes a famous song from the musical "Pippin." Well, maybe, but for the many fans of that '70s Stephen Schwartz hit, a return to Broadway has been overdue for years.
Now those fans may get their wish. An ambitious revival that fuses the famous Bob Fosse choreography with the daring physical world of circus is in previews at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass. And before it even opened, it was surrounded by Broadway buzz, with word that producers were seeking a theater on the Great White Way, perhaps for the spring.
Director Diane Paulus certainly has an enviable track record. Her revivals of both "Hair" and "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess" have not only gone to Broadway but have won Tonys for best revival of a musical. And to judge from the enthusiastic reaction at a recent preview in Cambridge, audiences are liking what they see.
It helps, of course, that there's so much nostalgia out there for the show, a whimsical coming-of-age story set in medieval times that opened in 1972 and ran for five years. Directed and choreographed by the masterful Fosse, it starred Ben Vereen as the Leading Player, an emcee-like role that won him a best-actor Tony. (Fosse, who died in 1987, won Tonys for direction and choreography.)
Paulus herself, a little girl during the run, was one of its ardent fans. "It made its mark on me," she says. "I knew that cast album by heart. I sang all the songs with my friends."
This undated publicity photo provided by American Repertory Theater shows, Andrea Martin, center, as Berthe and, Matthew James Thomas, right, as Pippin, in a production of "Pippin," at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass. (AP Photo/ American Repertory Theater, Michael J. Lutch)
Four decades later, give or take a few years, Paulus was looking for her next project. Schwartz had come to her with another show, and during the conversation, she raised the subject of "Pippin," which is still performed by countless school groups and regional troupes. "I said, 'BY the way...'" she quips.
Schwartz liked the idea, Paulus was excited — but she needed a hook. The task was to modernize and reinvigorate it. And then it hit her: Circus. Specifically, the hugely physical style of a Montreal circus company, Les 7 Doigts de la Main (literally, the seven fingers of the hand).
"I wanted to put a unique acrobatic language onstage," Paulus says. "A light bulb went off." She spoke to the circus company's co-founder, Gypsy Snider, who noted that being "extraordinary" — Pippin's aspiration — is also the aspiration of every circus artist. (Snider has choreographed the circus parts of the show, and Chet Walker, who was in the original "Pippin," has choreographed the dance parts in Fosse style.)