Taking a Friday night date night performance of Pippin at the Footlight Club in Jamaica Plain fulfilled two long-term goals. First, after eleven years living in Jamaica Plain, we finally made it to a show at the Footlight Club, a lovely and historic playhouse. Second, I’ve liked the music from Pippin – especially the song “Corner of the Sky” – for a long time, but I’d never seen it performed.
I had a vague understanding that this musical was about Pippin, the son of King Charlemagne, and his involvement with a troop of players. Vague is more accurate than I realized. Pippin, Charlemagne, and the other characters share the names with historical figures, but otherwise have no historical parallels. In fact, the show is designed to remind the audience that what we’re seeing is an artifice, a performance but on by a troop of players (who are performed by our real live actors).
The basic plot is young Pippin’s yearning to find meaning to his existence. In the first act he joins his father’s army, experiments with meaningless sexual encounters, and plots a revolution to overthrow is father’s tyranny. In the second act, he falls into despair and is restored to health by the widow Catherine, who owns a large farm. While Pippin does not enjoy the daily routine of manual labor, he falls in love with Catherine and grows fond of her son, Theo. The finale features Pippin deciding between the temptation of the Leading Player’s “perfect” but self-destructive act, or a quiet life with Catherine and Theo. It’s a much darker play than I imagined, and the music and the humor balances a sometimes cynical, sometimes sarcastic critique of the human condition.
The Footlight Club cast is absolutely wonderful. Andrea Giangreco needs to be singled-out for her performance as the Leading Player which she filled with exuberance and joy, cleverly uncovering the character’s manipulative and cruel side over the course of the play. Mary O’Donnell’s performance as Pippin’s grandmother Berthe provided the standout musical number of “No Time at All.” Not only was O’Donnell’s singing humorous and heartwarming, but the ensemble helped the audience participate by displaying the lyrics to the chorus through a remarkable trick of opening trunks and suitcases. I can’t imagine how long they rehearsed that! The Bob Fosse choreography screams FOSSE, but it’s still awe-inspiring.
If you’re in or near JP, make your way to the Footlight Club to see Pippin before it closes on September 29th.