Pippin, Charing Cross Theatre, Monday, 5th July, 2021.
Stephen Schwartz wrote Pippin. He also wrote Godspell, which was all about a troupe of hippy clowns finding and following Jesus. Steven Dexter, the director of this show, obviously thought that was a good idea, and hey, Hair was revived a couple of years back. Let’s make it a musical about a bunch of hippies in tie-dye and flowers.
There is a dreadful fascination in watching a car-crash ending approaching, and wondering if it can be avoided, and discovering it can’t. The point – the whole point – of this very feeble musical is the meta-theatrical device of a lost young man who gets pulled in to a theatrical troupe, who re-enact (for no good reason) the life of Charlemagne’s son Pippin, taking a variety of parts to tell the story, and then (spoiler alert) get cross with the young man when he won’t co-operate in their big finale (by setting himself on fire), and leave him with no props no costumes no music no lights, just him
And his existential angst. This troupe aren’t actors, they’re hippies. Is it a cult? Maybe, but if so that should probably be explored. If the ‘leading player’ is a sort of pathological Charles Manson/ Jim Jones type, that might merit a brief mention, but it doesn’t get a raised eye-brow. Of course he can tell everyone what to say, what’s odd about that? Do they take away the props? Yes. The costumes? No. They all wear tie-dye and flowers, that’s what they have, that’s what the interloper has, no change at all. Do they take away the lights? Not at all. The ‘leading player’ tells someone to take out the stage lights and bring up the working lights, so they fade into a hugely theatrical pair of top lights, that look like stage lights because they are. Do the musicians leave? No. They stop playing. They can’t leave because they’re going to fire up their instruments for the real finale, and the bows, and all that conventional show ending stuff. So what happens to the meta-theatrical existentialist stuff that was the whole point of the show? Oh. That. Never mind, let’s do a big company song and a show-biz finish.
I didn’t ever think that Pippin was a good musical, but presumably Steven Dexter did, so when his concept collided with the substance of the show, maybe he should have re-thought the concept. His company give him better service than he deserves; sparky, lively, sometimes quite funny. Everyone is mic’d up to the back teeth, so it’s all loud and over-amplified, considering they’re about two feet away from the front row of the audience, but then there’s a screeching guitar and synth duo to ride on, so maybe they need it.
There’s the big song about rambling rivers, that was quite nice, and Genevieve Nicol sells the best song, No Time At All, with considerable panache. For a brief moment I enjoyed myself.
30 June – 14 August 2021
The Arches, Villiers Street, London, WC2N 6NL