2013 Broadway revival
Pippin the Musical - PLOT SYNOPSIS
The musical begins with the Leading Player of a troupe and the accompanying actors in various costume pieces of several different time periods, establishing the play's intentionally anachronistic, defamiliarized, unconventional feel. The Leading Player and troupe, throughout the performance, metafictionally channel the Brechtian distancing effect and immediately break the fourth wall, directly speaking to the audience and provocatively inviting their attention ("Magic to Do"). They begin a story about a boy prince searching for existential fulfillment. They reveal that the boy who is to play the prince, named Pippin, is a new actor. Pippin talks to scholars of his dreams to find where he belongs ("Corner of the Sky"), and they happily applaud Pippin on his ambitious quest for an extraordinary life. Pippin then returns home to the castle and estate of his father, King Charles (known by the epithet "Charlemagne"). Charles and Pippin don't get a chance to communicate often, as they are interrupted by nobles, soldiers, and courtiers vying for Charles' attention ("Welcome Home"), and Charles is clearly uncomfortable speaking with his educated son or expressing any loving emotions. Pippin also meets up with his stepmother Fastrada, and her dim-witted son Lewis. Charles and Lewis are planning on going into battle against the Visigoths soon, and Pippin begs Charles to take him along so as to prove himself. Charles reluctantly agrees and proceeds to explain a battle plan to his men ("War is a Science").
Once in battle, the Leading Player re-enters to lead the troupe in a mock battle using top hats, canes, and fancy jazz to glorify warfare and violence ("Glory"), with the Leading Player and two lead dancers in the middle (performing Bob Fosse's famous "Manson Trio"). This charade of war does not appeal to Pippin, and he flees into the countryside. The Leading Player tells the audience of Pippin's travels through the country, until he stops at his exiled grandmother's estate ("Simple Joys"). There, Berthe (his paternal grandmother, exiled by Fastrada) tells Pippin not to be so serious and to live a little ("No Time At All"). Pippin takes this advice and decides to search for something a bit more lighthearted ("With You"). While he initially enjoys many meaningless sexual encounters, he soon discovers that relationships without love leave you "empty and unfulfilled."
The Leading Player then tells Pippin that perhaps he should fight tyranny, and uses Charles as a perfect example of an uneducated tyrant to fight. Pippin plans a revolution, and Fastrada is delighted to hear that perhaps Charles and Pippin will both perish so that her beloved Lewis can become king. Fastrada arranges the murder of Charles, and Pippin falls victim to her plot ("Spread a Little Sunshine"). While Charles is praying at Arles, Pippin murders him, and becomes the new king ("Morning Glow"). The Leading Player mentions to the audience that they will break for now, but to expect a thoroughly thrilling finale.
Act 2 begins with Pippin trying his best to grant the wishes of as many people as possible. But he realizes that it is impossible to keep everyone happy. Pippin realizes that neither he nor his father could change society and seemed forced to act as tyrants. He begs the Leading Player to bring his slain father back to life, and the Leading Player does so as Charlemagne nonchalantly comes back to life and mildly scolds Pippin. He feels directionless until the Leading Player inspires him ("On the Right Track"). After experimenting with art and religion, he falls into monumental despair and collapses on the floor.
Widowed farm-owner Catherine finds him on the street, and is attracted by the arch of his foot ("And There He Was") and when Pippin comes to, she introduces herself to Pippin ("Kind of Woman"). From the start, it is clear that the Leading Player is concerned with Catherine's acting ability and actual attraction to Pippin — after all, she is but a player playing a part in the Leading Player's yet-to-be-unfolded plan. At first, Pippin thinks himself above such boring manorial duties as sweeping, repairs, and milking cows ("Extraordinary"), but eventually he comforts Catherine's small boy, Theo, on the sickness and eventual death of his pet ("Prayer for a Duck") and warms up to the lovely Catherine ("Love Song"). However, as time goes by, Pippin feels that he must leave the estate to continue searching for his purpose. Catherine is heartbroken, and reflects on him (much to the Leading Player's anger and surprise) ("I Guess I'll Miss the Man").
All alone on a stage, Pippin is surrounded by the Leading Player and the various troupe members. They all suggest that Pippin complete the most perfect act ever: the Finale. They tell Pippin to jump into a box of fire, light himself up, and "become one with the flame." Pippin is reluctant at first, but slowly loses resistance ("Finale"). He is stopped by his natural misgivings and also by one actress from the troupe—the woman playing Catherine. Catherine and her son Theo stand by Pippin and defy the script, the Leading Player, and the Troupe. Pippin comes to the realization that the widow's home was the only place where he was truly happy ("Magic Shows and Miracles"). Having experimented with every possible path to fulfillment, he feels humbled, and realizes that maybe the most fulfilling road of all is a modest, ordinary life. He comes to the conclusion that, while "settling down" may at times be mundane and boring, "if [he's] never tied to anything, [he'll] never be free." The Leading Player becomes furious and calls off the show, telling the rest of the troupe and even the orchestra to pack up and leave Pippin, Catherine, and her son alone on an empty, dark and silent stage, yelling at Pippin, "You try singing without music, sweetheart!" Pippin realizes that he has given up his extraordinary purpose for the simplest and most ordinary life of all, and he is finally a happy man. When Catherine asks him how he feels, he says he feels "trapped, but happy."
Songs from musical: Pippin the Musical Lyrics
Synopsis to Pippin the Musical Plot