Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
By seeming to mock the ordinariness it actually celebrates, "Pippin" has become one of the decade's most successful musicals, having passed the New York run of "South Pacific."
Thursday night it returned to the Kennedy Center Opera House, where it was born almost five years ago. The house was packed, the reception good and the run in through Sept. 3.
Stuart Ostrow's production has not tarnished, though inevitably it lacks the glitter of the show's initial run. That glitter came from "Pippin's" surprising vitality largely because Bob Fosse's choreography and direction, Tony Walton's scenic design and Patricia Zipprodt's amusing costumes were then so fresh an approach to a novel challenge.
The challenge within Roger O. Hirson's original book is to make the ordinary triumphant. Having made simplicity triumphant in "Godspell," Stephen Schwartz again has contributed music and lyrics which sound bright, mod and brassy without being especially melodic or ingenious.
Pippin is Charlemagne's eldest son and, according to Hirson, his 8th-century choices were little different than this century's. There is a father to respect and despise, a step-mother anxious that her own son inherit. There are wars to be won, girls to be captured. There is the individual's feeling that he, more than most, is, as Pippin's song puts it, "Extraordinary." There is the chance to pass on in suicidal glory, but sweeter by far is a wife, a child and a garden.
"Pippin's" creators are too theatrically adept to put matters so baldly. There is the frame of a commedia dell' arte troupe improvisiong themselves into Charlemagne's time and there is the role of that company's leading player (created by Ben Vercen) to suggest diabolical machinations. There is "Magic to Do" - turning a small red handerchief into sets which rise from the floor.
Visually, Zipprodt's costumes seem to live in both centuries, the eighth and today's. Aurally Ralph Burns' orchestrations, led by Roland Gagnon, have the sound electronics give to so many recent scores: sharp, sometimes piercing, but bursting with vitality.
An immensely aware musician, Schwartz's songs cleverly mock format numbers. "War Is a Science" and "Glory" find the company lined up minstrel style. The tone of revolution is achieved obversely through "Spread a Little Sunshine," which Antonia Ellis does with solid bumps and grinds. "Morning Glow" manages to imitate cheer-up songs by sounding like the real thing, the essence of parody.
And, with only 10 minutes on stage, Thelma Carpenter rises to the grandmother's hearty admonition, "No Time at All," that sing-a-long the late Irene Ryan introduced so charmingly. Carpenter is a fine replacement.
Eric Berry's Charlemagne is the only veteran of the original company and Berry plays him with even greater style than he did at "Pippin's" start.
Pippin is a long, taxing role and Michael Rupert, who has played it two seasons, is equal to its sweaty demands. Larry Riley, as the diabolic Leading Player, exudes the right vitality. Alexandra Borrie is able to make fun of the suburbanite widow without losing her sense of truth and Jerry Colker manages to make something to Pippin's ambitious younger brother.
Lighting cues and positions were not quite accurate last night. One assumes that the required precision will be regained.