The cast of Pippin
(© Diane Soboleski)
The cast of Pippin
(© Diane Soboleski)
Long before Princeton was seeking his purpose on Avenue Q, Pippin, the son of King Charlemagne, was looking for his purpose wherever he could find it. Now, audiences can once more find that young man in the acclaimed 1972 musical that bears his name, Pippin in a solid production at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut. (The Goodspeed run also serves as the opening stop for the show's national tour.)

Pippin is technically set in the 8th Century, but Roger O. Hirson's book and Stephen Schwartz's score are often purposely anachronistic. The pair wanted contemporary teens to identify with Pippin's plight: He goes to war with men, to bed with women, and to revolutionary means to right his father's wrongs. But nothing sticks. Kids related to Pippin in 1972, just as they will now; while older audiences will again nod in agreement during the second act when Pippin realizes that being a spouse and parent may mean an unexciting life, but a nonetheless worthy one.

In the title role, Joshua Park laces "Corner of the Sky" with cockiness rather than the usual wistfulness. He finishes this now-popular anthem by raising his arms high and clasping them together in a victory salute. That may seem radical, but it's supportable. After all, by his own admission, Pippin believes himself to be "extraordinary." Although Park is as passionate and as manic as a pepper-shaker filled with Mexican jumping beans, he adjusts his personality as his circumstances change. After Charlemagne gives his war-ending "mission accomplished" announcement, Park shows disgust when he sees as many disembodied arms and legs as can be found in a certain Inishmore cottage. Park shows the right uneasiness when his head wears the crown, too.

Luckily, 1960s pop icon Mickey Dolenz doesn't make a monkey (or Monkee) out of himself as Charlemagne; instead, he delivers a perfectly adequate performance. As Grandma Berthe, the too-young Barbara Marineau knows how to sing "No Time At All," her paean to living life to the fullest; unfortunately, the new aggressive orchestration fights against the song. (Schwartz has also penned some effective new lyrics here and in a few other places.) As Fastrada, Shannon Lewis conveys the essence of a second wife -- one who marries only for better and never for worse. But Teal Wicks as Catherine is a tad too slick, and doesn't feel far enough removed from Fastrada.

In one substantive change, Catherine's son Theo (the okay Jason Blaine) has been reconceptualized as a teenager, instead of a tween. While an adolescent wouldn't have so great an attachment to a pet duck -- a big plot point -- getting through to a teen is harder than reaching a moppet, which ups the stakes on Pippin's challenge. As The Leading Player, who emcees the proceedings, Andre Ward's mouth and smile are as wide as the Monongahela. He infuses some lines with a black jive feel, not unlike Jimmie Walker's "dy-no-mite" delivery in the 1970s sitcom Good Times. Ward is also more Mephistophelean than some of his predecessors -- note his red-and-black outfit -- but that works, for Pippin constantly seems to be tempted by the devil.

When Pippin was first produced, much was made of director-choreographer Bob Fosse's contributions, which earned him two Tony Awards. And just as Walter Bobbie's Chicago revival is Fosse-Lite in comparison to the 1975 original, so is this Pippin, thanks to Gabriel Barre's direction and Mark Dendy's choreography. Barre even uses Fosse's device of having one person announce the actors' names at the curtain call. (This lets the audience learn that Vincent Rodriguez III was the ensemble member who employed a look-at-me performance all night long.)

On the other hand, in "Extraordinary," Barre comes up with a new idea: He has the actors bring on panels of sheep, cows, and turkeys, and poke their heads through cutouts. It pulls focus from the song, but, to be fair, after the first A-section, no real new information is given.

Beowulf Borritt has designed a smart stainless steel unit set, where elevator shafts buttress what looks like a dial from an old telephone, and Liz Prince's costumes are appropriately rag-tag, as if she went through the shop and picked out whatever happened to be hanging on the racks. But Pippin's ultimate success belongs to its creators. Schwartz's music remains wonderfully tuneful as well as diverse. (Who expects a finale to begin in waltz tempo?) As for the book, only the libretto for Follies has been more unjustly maligned. Hirson's script takes us everywhere we need to go and makes firm points along the way.

Did Pippin himself ever feel satisfied? Whether he did or not, the show that bears his name sure has satisfied countless theatergoers in the past 34 years. Happily, it does so again now.