This is the fourth installment of a series, Learning from Musicals.
I learned other important teenage lessons from Pippin. The first is not to listen to songs from musicals out of context.
We performed a few songs from Pippin as one of the opening acts before Dames at Sea in 1978. We couldn’t do the musical in its 1970s incarnation in its entirety. Graphic violence, nudity, orgies, and patricide (doubling as regicide) weren’t suitable for a high school stage, especially with our very Mormon music teacher. From the sanitized packages of Stephen Schwartz we performed, I developed a love for “Corner of the Sky.” It seemed like the perfect anthem for a teenage boy, especially one adrift in an innocent and idealistic bubble like me.
When Pippin played at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in LA, I begged my mom to take me. That’s when I learned my second and most important lesson.
At first, Pippin was everything I dreamed it would be. I found myself near tears when Pippin belted “Corner of the Sky.” He was my hero, and I was excited to see his adventures take shape on the stage.
Then, Pippin started pissing me off.
No matter what he did, Pippin was unhappy about it. The war part was understandable. No one is happy about war (except for a few politicians I can think of). But sexual pleasure left him feeling empty and unfulfilled. He loathed being a leader and couldn’t wait to step down from power. And when he found a woman who loved him and had a chance to be a father, he complained about it! And when Pippin left Catherine and his son Theo, I wanted to smack the greasepaint off that callow, selfish jerk.
Pippin reminded me too much of my own father at a time when the wounds of my parents’ divorce were still fresh. Like Pippin, Dad was always pursuing something extraordinary, always searching for satisfaction he would never find, and then walking away from his responsibilities, his family, and me. Pippin went from being my hero to someone I hated. In the finale, I wanted that scumbag to burn up in that “one perfect flame.”
At that point, both Pippin and I learned that important lesson: to grow up is to embrace responsibility. The real “magic shows and miracles” come from those small moments you share with the people you love and the things that matter to you. Watching your children grow up to become adults themselves. Holding your grandchild for the first time. Turning a house into a home by building memories in it.
Pippin learned that living only for yourself leads to emptiness and dissatisfaction. When we care for others, our lives are richer and more fulfilling. Responsibility is where you find contentment and satisfaction. In the ordinary, we experience the extraordinary.
It’s lessons like the ones I learned from Pippin and the other musicals I’ve seen, listened to, and performed in that make it such an inspiring art form for me. Now, you know why I fill my iPhone with showtunes. They remind me of the lessons I learned and continue to need.
Next: What comes next?