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Working Magic With Pippin
by Scott Miller

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Neither Stephen Schwartz, Roger Hirson, nor John Rubescent, who played Pippin, liked the re-writes or the style of the show as it was finally set. But it opened in October of 1972 and was generally regarded as something genuinely innovative and exciting. The reviews were positive, admitting that though the score was mediocre, Fosse's unusual conception and direction had made the show into an incredible piece of theatre. Pippin won five Tony Awards that year, including Best Director and Best Choreographer for Fosse, and Best Actor in a Musical for Ben Vereen. Neither the show's script nor its score won Tonys. After the Broadway run, Schwartz had much of Fosse's material taken back out of the script and his and Hirson's work restored. It is this tamer, watered-down version which is now available for amateur productions. Though the 1981 videotaped production of the show that was released commercially does include many of Fosse's re-writes, remember that you can't change the licensed version without permission.

If you follow Fosse's darker vision of Pippin, the show must be unsettling, decadent, outrageous. For community or school groups, directors may be hesitant to stage a genuinely perverse orgy or to allow the actress playing Fastrada to be too sexually explicit in her incestuous relationship with her son Lewis. But there are ways to communicate the extreme and frightening nature of Pippin's adventures without offending your audience. For instance, in the orgy, the performers don't have to be half-naked; you can dress them all as common sexual fantasy figures, a cop, a construction worker, a Catholic school girl, a hooker, a dominatrix, a sailor. Instead of Fastrada actually kissing or rubbing up against Lewis, their dialogue can be merely infused with sexual undercurrents. It's important for Pippin to be unnerved, even repulsed, by much of what he experiences, but you can let the audience's imagination fill in some of the gory details without compromising the intent of the material.

Breaking the Rules...

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