Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Leading Player > Roxie Hart & Velma Kelly And Other Observations

Well, another EPIC Hanukkah present is in the books! My dad took me to NYC for a musical double header. A word of advice to those of you who frequent the Manhattan theatre district: bring folding chairs if you plan on standing in rush/standing room lines. You’ll be able to wait in comfort AND see the jealousy seeping out of your fellow line inhabitants at your ingenuity. We brought lightweight camping chairs with carrying straps on our journey and they were beyond beneficial!
It turned out to be Fosse Appreciation Day, as we got to see two of legendary choreographer, Bob Fosse’s greatest musicals: Pippin and Chicago! We’re only going to talk about Pippin today because it was by far the better show of the two.  Though Chicago had an energetic and VERY talented cast with snappy, memorable tunes, I was kinda bored and not able to invest in the show emotionally (like I had with the movie version, which I LOVE!) So yeah, Pippin wins.
Anyway, to the fun part!  We jumped in the student rush line (and thank GOD they don’t only offer student rush tickets to students!) for maybe 20 minutes before they opened the box office of the Music Box Theatre,. We snagged the 2nd and 3rd to last rush tickets of the day (same thing happened when my mom and I saw Book Of Mormon. What can I say? Broadway loves me!).  BOOYAH!  This show marked the first time I have ever sat in a theatre box.  I always wanted to sit in a box!  I may have been delusional, but I think Patina Miller was giving some serious love to the box-sitters; maybe because she knew that those were the cheap seats… and you can always count on the cheap seats. And this audience was on fire!  Nothing better than when the house is eagerly anticipating the next chance to erupt into riotous approval of what the insanely talented people are doing onstage!

Music & Lyrics: Stephen Schwartz
Book: Roger O. Hirson
Broadway Debut: 1972
Tony Nominations-Wins: 11-5 (not counting the 4 more snagged by the revival!)

I saw the understudy for Pippin and dear God, he was DREAMY!
The Story:
Pippin is an abstract, anachronistic tale of the son of Charlemagne.  Encouraged by the Leading Player and the brightly-colored troupe of circus performers, acrobats, and contortionists, Pippin embarks on a quest to live a fulfilling and extraordinary life. He experiments with academia, war, politics, ruling the Holy Roman Empire, art, religion, and carnal pleasures in attempts to find a meaningful existence, all of which leave him “empty and unfulfilled”.  Along his journey, he meets Catherine and her son, Theo.  Pippin feels he is above their ordinary life of sweeping, shoveling, milking cows and repairing pig pens.  Though they eventually become attracted to each other, Pippin leaves Catherine to continue his quest for perfection. The ending is somewhat unorthodox, which I won’t spoil for you today (unless you want me to. In that case, read the next paragraph!), but Pippin eventually decides how he is going to live his life and achieve happiness.
At the end of the show, The Leading Player offers Pippin the chance to accomplish the perfect act of glory that will cement his fame forever: The Grand Finale. However, he ultimately chooses an “ordinary” life with his newfound love and her son (minus his dead duck), devoid of costumes and makeup and colored lights and magic.  He decides he would rather spend his life with a woman (with a mole on her face) who makes him truly happy than to fruitlessly search for perfection.  The Leading Player is infuriated and calls off the show, telling the players and the orchestra to pack up and leave Pippin, Catherine, and Theo alone on a now empty, dark and silent stage.  Pippin realizes that though he has given up his extraordinary purpose for the simplest and most ordinary life, he is finally happy.  Theo remains on stage and the players return to offer him a chance to be extraordinary. The circle continues…

The Message:
In exploring the field of what constitutes as success, Pippin reminds us that extraordinary doesn’t necessarily mean fulfillment or happiness.  We can become enamored with the magic and costumes we see on stage, but we can’t touch or hold or love magic (at least not mutually) because it isn’t real. It’s great to visit the circus, but it’s not home.  The ending of Pippin presents everyone with the choice to aspire to be a star or be someone’s star. *Oh God, that’s effing hokey!* It’s up to each person to decide what they want to be and what kind of life is most worth living.
It’s not easy being extraordinary. Some people can hack it, but it’s usually not be all it’s cracked up to be.  Look at Howard Hughes.  Look at Mozart.  Look at Judy Garland.  Wildly successful, talented, inspiring people who made major contributions in the world.  But for all their accomplishments, they had severe problems coping with life.  They were miserable offstage.  Whether their misery stemmed from their success is up for speculation (alcohol and chain smoking don’t help).  But with great power comes great responsibility, which is always tough to manage.  Not everyone is meant to be extraordinary, and those who are certainly have no guarantee of fulfillment. 
This show make me think a lot about my brother (who, fittingly, has venomously despised this show ever since he saw a video of the 1981 broadcast version… starring the incomparable Ben Vereen). I’d like to clarify first that he has Apsergers Syndrome, so he’s a funny little man to begin with. Anyway, he’s been preoccupied for the last several years with finding the perfect woman (who is apparently Trophy Wife Barbie on steroids). He’s attracted to things for their aesthetic value (in his eyes) and is under the impression that he is entitled to keep company with only beautiful young ladies (Bonus Points if they went to his high school).  Anyone who doesn’t meet his criteria is unworthy of his attention/ time.  I’m all for shooting for the stars, but this is more like shooting for the stars 5 galaxies away with a pea shooter.  He spends a good percentage of his waking existence angry at the world for not delivering his dream girl to his doorstep, as he claims he does not have time to find and strike up a relationship with said fabricated goddess.  I feel bad about his predicament; he’s a big kid at heart, but he isn’t an easy person to get along with for the most part and his views about relationships (among other things) are very one-sided.  Like Pippin, he sets his sights and ambitions so high that he sets himself up for failure and disappointment almost intentionally.  Both young men want to find fulfillment in brilliant, shining places. But unlike my brother (whom I wonder if he’ll ever grasp the meaning of fulfillment like the rest of us do), Pippin finds contentment in the last place he’d think to find it: Ordinary life. It’s not perfect. It’s not extraordinary. But it’s real. So Godspeed, Big Brother, in your search for fulfillment!
I think we’re all responsible for finding the extraordinary in our own ordinary lives.  A sense of fulfillment can be found in performing at Madison Square Garden or amassing a grandiose fortune, but it can also be found in comforting a child over a lost pet or maintaining a humble home with your life companion.  It just depends on what kind of fulfillment you’re willing to pursue. I think the greatest sense of fulfillment is found in something you share with another.  If you feel you need the adoration of thousands over the real love of just one person to be happy, prep yourself for disappointment.
I’ve made peace with the fact that I’m never going to be Audra McDonald, married to Hugh Jackman, besties with Neil Patrick Harris, have 6 villas, BeyoncĂ©’s body, or Gordon Gekko’s salary. I do laundry and cook dinner and work at a less-than-ideal job and burn popcorn (only once), but I’m content because the tedium pales in comparison to the gratification the people in my life bring to everyday living. I have my family. I have my man. I have theatre.  I have a job. I have access to Freddy’s Steakburgers (seriously, crack on a bun!).  That may not be fulfilling for my brother or for you, but it works for me and I’m pretty satisfied!

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