In 1973 we were all traumatized by the Viet Nam War which was finally coming to an end, and by Watergate which was just erupting. What did Broadway do in response? They gave us the frivolity we so desperately desired. Take a look a the shows that were nominated for Tonys that year: Pippin, A Little Night Music, The Sunshine Boys and Much Ado About Nothing. All these plays try to address serious issues in very subtle ways, but are careful not to whack the audience over the head with anything too heavy or emotional.
In Foothill Music Theatre's recent production, the choreography by Joe Duffy was excellent with just enough Fosse to pay tribute to his legacy. Jay Manley's direction was fantastic as always, and Catherine Snyder's music was excellent. But, what really struck me was how Pippin reflects the social atmosphere of the early 1970s. Much of Pippin is whimsy. We were worn out as a nation and we needed to feel unencumbered. There is no gut wrenching conflict in the first act of Pippin. It's mostly light humor and fun.
Sometimes when I watch a musical, I get the feeling that the writers create a first act that exists merely to fulfill an audience's desire to just listen to nice music and watch people dance. Then once they have them in the seats, they give them Act II. Act II often is the musical they want people to see. This for me was the case with Pippin. Act II turned out to be something much more touching and personal. The thrust of the second act revolves around Pippin's (Nathan Baynard) growing love for Catherine, a charming and beautiful peasant woman played wonderfully by Alicia Teeter. He is in conflict over his love for her and his own self perception. He sees himself as a prince that could never live the life of a farmer. The scenes between the two are written with humor and love and the actors really were excellent in bringing it to life. Mr. Baynard and Ms. Teeter create some wonderful moments in the second act that made me both laugh and cry a little.
More than anything, Pippin made me think of life in the early 1970s. It made me remember our need for innocence. It made me think of how in 2007 we are in another war that looks all too similar to Viet Nam. And, it made me long for a time when we could hum along to songs of hope as the flower children we were, or wished we could be.