Pippin—A Prince in Search of Meaning
Posted on 03/28/2017
The cast of Broadway’s musical Pippin performed at State Theatre New Jersey on March 24th. In his search for a meaningful life, Pippin takes the audience on his journey, one rife with disappointments. We encounter quirky characters, acrobats, and Pippin’s father, King Charles, who has a penchant for chopping off heads.
The king (Brendon Schaefer) and his son, Pippin (Naysh Fox), are derived from history, the dark ages AKA the early middle ages. Darkness consumes Pippin. He is the ‘scholar of the house’ newly arrived home from the University of Padua, and he surpasses his father intellectually.
Leading Player Housson Semon narrates this farcical atmosphere which includes circuslike characters performing acrobatics and dressing as pigs and chickens. According to Wikipedia, a Leading Player narrating produces the distancing effect, a technique used to prevent the audience from being immersed in the play, so they can be conscious critical observers instead. Ms. Semon does a great job of keeping everything together.
Upon Pippin learning that his father is a tyrant, he wants to do something about it; he sees the unfairness in tyranny. One night he attacks his father, killing him; he then takes the throne and abolishes taxes and the army. He does so until his kingdom is invaded and he becomes his father as he also starts chopping off heads and denying the people their rights. He calls in the army, a battle ensues, and they win the war but Pippin is disappointed in this victory because it doesn't make him happy. He miraculously brings his father back from the dead and reinstates him as king. The majesty of a kingdom is displayed in the beautiful costumes and the large ensemble of characters who work well together to pull off a production of this magnitude.
Pippin is free to continue his quest for the meaning of life and he sets out to find his grandmother Berthe, an exile of his father’s court. Her secret is to live in the moment and that inspires Pippin as he enters the next segment of his adventure. We sang along to the chorus of "No Time at All" as even grandma Berthe performed acrobatics.
Widowed farm-owner Catherine then finds Pippin on the street and ends up taking him in. He performs menial tasks while he and the cast sing "Extraordinary." The turning point comes when he comforts Catherine’s son Theo following the death of his pet duck, and the cast sings "Prayer for a Duck." Pippin feels the urge to run away from Catherine and this average life; the troupe then urges him to perform the grand finale and jump into the box of fire, becoming one with it. He can't bring himself to do it, the cast becomes upset, and the Leading Player removes everything making the show magical, and tells him "You try singing without music, sweetheart!" The stage is dark, with no lights, magic, or fanfare. Pippin realizes his simple life with Catherine and Theo is his fulfillment. Theo brings everything back by singing "Corner of the Sky" a capella as the lights come on, the cast re-enters, and the orchestra begins playing again.
Pippin’s quest for the meaning of life is an ever present human one, and we learn from him that if we search hard and long enough, we’ll find ours.
By Elizabeth C. Millar