Schwartz began his career in composition at the age of four. Alongside his sister, he wrote and performed musicals. At ten, he was taking music lessons at Julliard, and by 16 years old, he was accepted to Carnegie Mellon University. He was an active student in the theatre program, but particularly in a student organization called Scotch’n’Soda, with which the first production of Pippin, Pippin was performed. Upon graduation in 1968, he began reaching out to producers in New York City. Three years later, Godspell opened on Broadway, for which he wrote music and lyrics. Pippin followed the year after. He found relative success in the following years with productions of The Magic Show, The Baker’s Wife, and Children of Eden. In the 1990s, he began working for Disney alongside Alan Menken for Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He also wrote music for The Prince of Egypt and Enchanted. In 2003, his most successful musical, Wicked, opened on Broadway, where it is still running. He has won three Academy Awards, the Isabelle Stevenson Award, three Grammy Awards, and he has been nominated for five Tony Awards. Schwartz finds inspiration in classical musicians Bartok, Rachmaninov, and Debussy. Other influences include Motown, Carole King, and Gilbert and Sullivan.
Schwartz and Pippin
“Pippin became a semi-autobiographical quest or story about a young man in search of himself, and that got grafted onto this medieval setting,” Schwartz said. Pippin’s development began in 1967 while Schwartz was in college. He took Pippin with him after graduating. He and Pippin followed their post-college dreams together, trying to find the place where they belonged. As the play developed, Schwartz began to put more of himself in the story. He became aware of the political climate, passionate about the civil rights movement, and his anger towards the Vietnam War and President Nixon are interwoven into Pippin. Around the time he began finishing Pippin, he and his wife Carole were settling into their home in Connecticut, reflected in Pippin’s reluctance to settle down with Catherine, but ultimate decision that she was the most likely road to happiness.
To read more about Schwartz and his thoughts on Pippin, visit his forum archives to see interview questions he has answered.
Hirson was born in 1926. He wrote for television series such as The Armstrong Circle Theatre, Studio One, and Goodyear Television Playhouse through the 1940s and 50s. He made his Broadway debut in 1966 with Walking Happy, a musical for which he wrote the book. Schwartz brought him onto the Pippin team as the book writer for which he was nominated for the Tony Award Best Book of a Musical.
To learn more about Hirson, you can read this article on him.
Bob Fosse was famous for his choreography, directing, and dancing for film and theatre, but infamous for his controlling nature. On Broadway he directed and/or choreographed productions including Chicago, The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, Sweet Charity, and Pippin. His most significant films include Cabaret, All That Jazz, and Liza with a Z. Fosse won 8 Tony Awards for choreography and 1 Tony Award for Directing. He was nominated for three Academy Awards and won an Academy Award for directing Cabaret.
As Pippin’s director, Bob Fosse has received much of the credit for its success due to his staging and choreography. He was heavily influential in the development of the music and book. His status over Hirson and Schwartz allowed him to constantly threaten that he would leave the production if he didn’t get what he wanted. In fact, when Bob Fosse then joined the team Hirson said to Schwartz, “This is our last happy day on this show.” Fosse darkened the show, made it dance-heavy, and removed the focus from Pippin to Leading Player. Fosse even attempted to cut “Kind of Woman” until Schwartz invoked the Dramatist Guild contract. The classic dispute between the writers and Fosse was over the ending of the show. Hirson wrote that Pippin said he felt, “Trapped, but happy.” Fosse believed this was a cop out and projected his own ending: “Trapped.”
To learn more about Fosse’s perspective on Pippin, read this article.
Pippin is considered both a concept musical and a rock musical. The first true concept musicals are considered A Chorus Line and Company. At the most basic, a concept musical places its concept and theme before all else, supported by all elements of the show (directing, designing, and writing.) It thus uses structure and characters to comment upon its theme. In Pippin, this theme is the search for meaning in life. Each situation that Pippin finds himself in (war, sex, power) is relevant to this theme. The music provides further commentary on the theme of the show as characters reflect on the state of the world and how they have found meaning in spreading sunshine, war, simple joys, etc.
Pippin is also defined as a rock musical. In the 1960s the flower-power rebelliousness gave way to the rise of rock. As birth control became accessible, sexual freedom emerged. Drugs such as LSD and marijuana rose in popularity. Rock musicals developed in the theatre in the late 60s, often marked by Hair. Pippin’s music, anti-war ideals, and brief look into sex and drug culture are the defining features that place it within this genre.
The original production is often compared with vaudeville, as Fosse was greatly inspired by variety shows. Vaudeville was popular during the 1920s. A performance included several acts including skits, comics, animals, singers, dancers, and acrobats.
Brecht’s Epic Theatre also influenced Pippin, as many aspects of it are inherent in performance. In his manifesto, Brecht listed the aspects of Epic Theatre:
- Turns the spectator into an observer, but arouses his capacity for action
- Forces him to take decisions
- He is made to face something
- The spectator stands outside, studies
- The human being is the object of inquiry, not taken for granted
- Eyes on the course, not the finish
- Aims to disturb, arouse
As noted in many reviews, Pippin has very little plot. It is uses narrative storytelling to constantly remind the audience that we are in fact an audience. Brecht’s alienation effect was designed to keep the audience out of the world of the play so that they could criticize it. Instead of feeling pity for a character, the audience was meant to be called to action. Brecht wanted to ensure that the audience was also aware that they were watching a play. In Pippin, alienation works differently. During Pippin, we are in fact always aware that we are watching a play, as we are watching a play within a play. However, we are drawn into Pippin’s story and made to feel pity for him because we relate to him. It isn’t until the final scene that the audience is called to action when dared to perform the finale.
Ways in which Brecht appears in Pippin is through a narrator and breaking the fourth wall. Not only is Leading Player a narrator, but Catherine and Fastrada narrate as well. The wall is constantly broken. An example is in Leading Player singing, “Aren’t you glad you don’t feel like that?” Brecht also utilized signs to notate location, costumes to caricature characters, projections, music and song, historical characters, and characters named after their occupation, all of which are present in the script or typically used in production. For instance, when Berthe asked the audience to sing along with her, some productions use a screen to put the lyrics up. In terms of acting, Brecht calls for presentational acting and for actors not to “become” the character. This is most present in Catherine, who constantly breaks character or forgets a line.
Hegel’s theory influenced the creation of stories like Peer Gynt and Pippin in which a man searches for self-fulfillment. Hegel said that there are three levels of the mind. These include the Soul, the Consciousness, and the Mind. The individual journeys through each of these levels to achieve self-actualization. In Pippin, there is a display of the second level in which education allows for the self to become skeptical. For example, Pippin questions his faith when Charles says that the Infidel are also praying for victory, believing that God is on their side. Pippin reasons that God cannot be on both of their sides if one of them is to win the war. The bulk of Pippin’s journey, however, is in the third level. John Rowan describes this as, “It is really important to know and pursue my own interests; this is one of the best ways in which I can contribute to universal rationality… And this leads to happiness- to a will which, because it includes all that is relevant, is genuinely free.” Once achieving happiness and freedom, the individual reaches self-actualization, but does Pippin ever actually achieve this?
Hegel also believed that the mentally ill maintained their rationality. He makes two points that can be applied to Pippin: that mental illness is “present within each subject” and that the mentally ill are “under the power of someone else.”