NEW YORK — Things have come full circle for Stephen Schwartz. The composer/lyricist's first musical debuted on Broadway in October 1972. Four decades later, “Pippin” is a hit once again and won the 2013 Tony Award as Best Musical Revival.
While many Broadway musicals of the late 1960s and early 1970s enjoyed considerable popularity at the time, the most notable being “Hair” and “Jesus Christ Superstar,” their rock scores labeled them as undeniable products of their era.
As their influence waned, many insiders believed they would be consigned to an ever-growing list of musicals that had few chances of being revived. Curiously, both returned to Broadway in the past few seasons.
“Pippin” would likely have suffered a similar fate had it not been for Diane Paulus' innovative staging. The current production makes considerable use of circus elements that transform the slender narrative into a joyous and visually compelling evening of theater.
The musical tells the story of King Charlemagne's son Pippin, a young prince who seeks meaning in his life, or as he proclaims, his “corner of the sky.” On his journey, Pippin experiences war, promiscuity, art and religion, but ultimately decides that the extraordinary life he envisioned for himself is not to be. Pippin finally finds happiness creating a life with a widow and her son.
The Leading Player, winningly portrayed by Patina Miller, a performer who won a Tony Award for her role, functions as convivial guide while providing witty commentary about the proceedings. She offers a new but equally valid take on the role originated by Ben Vereen in 1972.
The other standout from the original production was Irene Ryan, better known as the family matriarch on the television sitcom “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Andrea Martin ably fills Ryan's shoes and brings a vivid theatricality to her role as Pippin's “Granny.”