Ben Vereen

Pippin [1972 Original Broadway Cast]

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Following the success of his off-Broadway musical Godspell and his collaboration with Leonard Bernstein on Mass, songwriter Stephen Schwartz made his Broadway debut with Pippin, which he had actually begun writing in college. It was based, very loosely, on Pepin (aka Pippin), the eighth century Frankish king. In the musical, Pippin (played by John Rubinstein) is a young man who is seeking meaning in life, not unlike the generation that came of age in the 1960s, of which Schwartz was a member, and not unlike the Jesus of Godspell. Pippin is led through life experiences by the Leading Player (played by Ben Vereen), a skeptical character not unlike the Judas of Godspell. It is the contrast between ingenuousness and archness represented by the two main characters that gives Pippin its dramatic structure, and onstage that contrast played out in the distinction between Schwartz's sweet pop/rock score and director/choreographer Bob Fosse's tart staging. It made for a successful combination; opening on October 23, 1972, Pippin ran more than four and a half years, for a total of 1,944 performances. Theater professionals, as ever hostile to the incursions of rock music on the Great White Way, tended to credit Fosse with the show's popularity and to disparage Schwartz's score. At Tony time, Fosse won two awards, while Schwartz lost the best score trophy to Stephen Sondheim and A Little Night Music. Nevertheless, the score was one of the show's major assets. Motown Records invested in Pippin and had its artists cover songs from it. The Supremes had a minor pop chart entry with "I Guess I'll Miss the Man," and the Jackson 5 made the R&B Top Ten and the pop Top 20 with "Corner of the Sky" shortly after the show opened. The cast album, Motown's first venture into show music, spent two and a half months in the charts, the only cast album to reach the charts at all in 1973. It deserved to do even better. Schwartz's piano- and guitar-based melodies were as catchy and appealing as any of the soft rock that was dominating the charts in the early '70s, and the cast was accomplished, especially Vereen, and, in "No Time at All," a spry ode to senior citizenship, Irene Ryan, best known as Granny Clampett on the television series The Beverly Hillbillies. On September 26, 2000, Decca Broadway reissued the Pippin cast album with the Supremes and Jackson 5 hits as bonus tracks, along with Michael Jackson's 1973 cover of "Morning Glow," the best of the pop versions of songs from the show.

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