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‘Pippin’ gives audiences something to ponder

Special to The PREVIEW

Beginning June 28 and running through July 6, Curtains Up Pagosa! will bring to the stage their own version of the newly Broadway-revived musical “Pippin.” The “Pippin” revival is now up for multiple Tony awards and is a smash hit on Broadway. So perhaps the question is “What is ‘Pippin?’”

“Pippin,” rated PG, is certainly not a musical in the same vein as the Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” or “Oklahoma,” musicals depicting the innocence of the American fantasy life. “Pippin” is funny, it is entertaining, it has a great musical score by Stephen Schwartz, is filled with singing and dancing (originally choreographed by Bob Fosse), and will star some of Pagosa’s most accomplished actors, but that is where the similarities end.

“Pippin” is set in France in the era of Charlemagne, but it is not a period piece, despite the character names. The musical has the off-putting flavor of the musical, Cabaret, presenting important questions disguised as entertainment. The story is about Pippin, the son of Charlemagne and heir to the throne, who has just graduated from the University of Padua. He is obviously intelligent and well educated, but lacking in life experience. Like so many young adults who are currently graduating from college today, he is asking the questions, “Who am I? What am I to do with my life? What is my purpose? How can I make a difference in this world? Who will guide me? How do I get there from here?”

Pippin’s guide turns out to be a character that is portrayed as a magician, a devil’s advocate, an alter ego, simply called the Lead Player acting alongside his Group of Players. The Lead Player guides Pippin through a variety of superficially significant life events, all designed by the Lead Player to fail in order to bring Pippin to the “grand finale.” Pippin is a rather passive, uninvolved person who allows life to happen to him rather than taking charge. He wants life to be significant without putting a great deal of personal effort into it.

The play has a surreal slightly disturbing feel to it, inviting the audience to be in on the journey. The Lead Player takes Pippin into life experiences that seem glorious and significant, but they are superficial, events that lead to Pippin’s ultimate frustration, resignation, and disgust. Clearly, the Lead Player is in control of the situations from the beginning, with all the Players conspiring against Pippin, and he has a specific end for Pippin in mind. But things ultimately do not go as they are designed to go. Pippin finally develops a backbone and makes a choice, defying The Lead Player’s plan.

What makes “Pippin” relevant today? Why has it regained popularity? When we think about it, the world is a rather disturbing place for those who are currently graduating from college. The ideas that we as a country have hung our hats on (anyone who works hard can succeed, if you have an education you can succeed, if you follow the doctrines and guidelines of organized religion you can succeed, get involved in politics and let your voice be heard … the government is the work of the people…etc.) do not necessarily ring true to young adults today. Traditional religion and political institutions do not speak convincingly to them and they question whether or not these institutions have anything of relevance to say about their futures or the future of the country they are to inherit. Where do the answers lie? Pippin does not give pat answers, but the questions are there and leave us with things to ponder. It accomplishes what music and theater ideally should accomplish; it leaves us with things to think about.

“Pippin,” a production of Curtains Up, Pagosa! will be performed with a live pit orchestra at Pagosa Springs High School June 28, 29 and 30 and July 3, 5 and 6. For more information, go to www.pagosamusicboosters.org.

This story was posted on May 23, 2013.