The early 1970s were fruitful times for Broadway musical theater.
In 1972 alone, 16 musicals opened on the Main Stem. They included “Grease,” “A Little Night Music” and “Pippin,” the show currently being produced by the Ohio Valley Summer Theater.
It opens tonight (Thursday) at the Forum Theater in the basement of the Radio-Television Building at 35 S. College St., and runs Thursday through Sunday this week and the next two weeks, ending on Aug. 12.
Almost an operetta – there is far more singing and dancing than talking – the show has been a perennial favorite. A modified version of the show (which is the one done by OVST) enjoyed a Broadway revival in 2013 and took the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical and three other Tony Awards. (The original production was nominated for 15 Tonys and won nine.)
It’s very loosely based – gets character names from – Charlemagne the Great and his first son, Pippin the Hunchback, though in production Charlemagne is named Charles (and isn’t very great) and Pippin is not a hunchback, nor is there much other connection with anything historical.
Instead, it is an entertainment, as is boldly announced by a character known as the Leading Player (Rhys Carr) in the opening number, “Magic to Do.” The role was created by the great Ben Vereen, who won the Tony for best actor, and was reprised three decades later by Patina Miller, who won the best actress Tony – the only time Tonys have been given to both an actor and an actress for the same role.
In it, Pippin (Carter Rice) is in search of a satisfying life, as enunciated in his signature song, “Corner of the Sky” (which became a minor hit for the Jackson 5).
Other notable songs include “War is a Science,” performed by Charles (Richard Nease) and the ensemble, “I Guess I’ll Miss the Man,” performed by Catherine (Olivia Kimball), which was a minor hit for The Supremes, and “No Time at All,” sung by Bertha (played by Sandy Russell). The last song, which deals in part with wringing the maximum out of the waning days of one’s life, was originated on Broadway by Irene Ryan, most famous as Granny on “The Beverly Hillbillies.” She collapsed due to a stroke backstage while waiting to go on, March 10, 1973, and died a month later. Her version of the song was released as a single by Motown, which advertised Ryan as their latest teen sensation.
Interspersed through the musical story are musical and dance interludes included by the original director and choreographer (Bob Fosse, who won Tonys for both), with catchy if sometimes ominous themes – another hallmark of early-1970s musicals.
“Pippin” was written by Stephen Schwartz, with the book by Roger O. Hirson. The OVST production is directed by Jonathan Hetler, with musical direction by Devin Sudman, and choreography by Emma Konjevich.
The play is cast from Athens and surrounding communities, with actors’ ages ranging from 5 to 70-plus. OVST had scenic collaboration with Passion Works Studio.
Performances are Thursdays through Sundays (July 26-29, Aug. 2-5, and Aug. 9-12), with Thursday through Saturday performances at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
Tickets can be obtained at Pippinovst.bpt.me or by calling 740-541-3728. “Pippin” is an ARTS for OHIO show, meaning OU students with current ID are admitted free. They should present their ID at the box office on show day