For some poor, unfortunate individuals, musical theatre is the audible equivalent of fingernails upon a blackboard. They perceive it as a trite, pointless art form. The goal of this regular feature is to introduce readers to worthy, quality contributions to the musical theatre genre in the hopes of increasing the art form’s appreciation.
In honor of yesterday’s digital download release of the Revival Cast’s Pippin , We Minored in Film focuses on a standout number from the 1970’s musical.
So, 1970s musical Pippin is back on Broadway. Pippin, the show about Emperor Charlemagne’s son and his quest for complete fulfillment through the lenses of war, sex, leadership, and domesticity is now available for a contemporary audience to see live.
(Full disclosure: I have a ticket to see it July, 6th)
I love Pippin. Composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz’s gorgeous and compelling score keeps the storyline accelerating forward and the lyrics, while often beautifully sincere, are sprinkled with enough dark, biting humor to keep the show’s tone from become too serious or mawkish.
I know Pippin’s plot is hopelessly twee. I mean, titular character Pippin and his quest for absolute, rapturous self-actualization is enough to make even the most optimistic of viewers roll their eyes in a state of collective annoyance.
I have to admit, though, I can keep my eyes from rolling in that mocking, circular direction. Maybe it’s because I heard the music for the first time at the right age. I was in my teens, also yearning for an ecstasy-driven existence (the concept, not the drug), and I fell for the show immediately. I love the score, find Pippin’s desire relatable rather than trite, and the musical’s ending, (vague spoiler here) stating that maybe all you can achieve in your life is an existence of pleasant, contentment, coupled with a lingering sense of restlessness, sharp and clever. It spoke to me then, and now, nearly twice the age I was when I first encountered it, the cynical part of my brain refuses to bare its fangs and rip the show to shreds. I remain swept along by its charms.
If I had to pick one moment to help someone understand everything that makes the musical click, I would choose its second song, the introduction to our primary protagonist: “Corner of the Sky.”
We’ve already met the players, including the suave, charming yet sinister, Lead Player. He’ll play an especially prominent role in the evening’s proceedings, acting as the encouraging, sometimes mocking, and eventually destructive, Greek chorus. He guides Pippin through his quest, but eventually the audience begins to feel he may be less helpful than he appears. He begins the show as an angel on Pippin’s right shoulder and ends the show as the Devil on his left.
Here, though, the audience meets Pippin for the first time. He steps onto the stage, addressing his teachers and tutors, thanking them for the knowledge they have provided him, but he can no longer remain trapped behind walls.
He has to venture firth into the world and find the place where he most belongs, his “corner of the sky.”
Check out the song, as sung by William Katt (and his hair):
I think Schwartz’s lyrics perfectly encapsulate those feelings of frustration and longing one feels as a teenager, when the world outside your door feels so fresh and inviting, while the world in which you are forced to reside feels stifling and suffocating. The first verse begins with a simple discussion as to the ways in which everything in the universe has its place, everything understands where and how it “fits.” It isn’t until the verse’s final line in which Pippin distinguishes himself from the rest of the universe, melancholically stating he doesn’t fit in “anywhere [he] goes.” That sense of isolation and desire to belong drives the actions of pretty much every teenage mind. It’s a painfully familiar concept out of which we never fully grow.
The second verse takes the opposite approach, with Pippin realigning himself with the rest of humanity. He has “daydreams” and “goals” as everyone else does, and everyone likes the way hopes bury themselves deep into our brains and propel us forward. Then, he utters the verse’s final line, that perhaps perfectly defines the musical: “Don’t you see? I want my life to be something more than long.” Every time I hear that line, I feel a small knot in my throat—a barely perceptible, impossible to palpate tightening that last for a few barely detectable moments. We all want a long, healthy life, but we also want to leave our marks on the world. What’s the point of a long life if it’s a life without meaning? It’s a perfect, lovely line, made all the more poignant because of its simplicity.
The third verse reemphasizes Pippin’s quest and transforms it into a determined, rallying cry: “I won’t rest until I know I’ll have it all.”
He sounds so certain he’ll find contentment, you almost believe it yourself, even as you have a lingering, nagging suspicion Pippin will never reach his goal. In the musical’s finale, the song is reprised by a chorus, urging Pippin towards destruction, and that recontextualization gives the song an eerie, sinister edge. Here, however, at the show’s opening, the song seems blissfully naïve with a hint of melancholy. Everyone wants their own corner of the sky. After all, the sky seems to stretch towards infinity, there must be enough room for everyone to have at least a small piece of it. Yet, usually we have to settle for a house, a spouse, 2.5 children, and a lingering worry that there may have been a moment which could have granted us more, had we not missed it.
Pippin is available to purchase on DVD and the Original Broadway cast recording is available to purchase on CD or through digital download.
So, what do you think, guys? What are your thoughts on Pippin? Is there another song from the show we should have picked? Is there another musical we should examine? Let us know in the comments!