Theater News

Pippin Grows Up

Paper Mill Playhouse’s revisal of the 1972 musical offers sex, magic, and lots of dancing.

Jack Noseworthy and friendsin Paper Mill's Pippin(Photo by Joan Marcus)
Jack Noseworthy and friends
in Paper Mill’s Pippin
(Photo by Joan Marcus)

“Sex!–Presented Pastorally” screams a headline on the flyer for the Paper Mill Playhouse’s Pippin. “We have a cast of the most beautiful people in New York,” said director Robert Johanson just before a press preview of numbers from the musical, as several lithe women and hot, young muscle boys limbered up on the sidelines. “There is nudity in the show,” Johanson blithely remarked to the assembled gentlemen and ladies of the press, “but you’ll have to buy a ticket to see that!”

For proof that sex sells, check out Paper Mill’s box office figures for this revisal of the Stephen Schwartz-Roger O. Hirson show that premiered on Broadway in 1972 in a legendary production directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse. “It’s is a very sexy show,” says Schwartz. “And, fortunately, this is a company that you’ll be happy to see doing that kind of stuff! It’s an amazing looking cast.”

That descrption certainly applies to Jack Noseworthy, who has the title role. Fresh off the plane from L.A., Noseworthy might be mistaken for just another West Hollywood stud muffin–until you read his credits and learn that he’s a veteran of the Broadway companies of A Chorus Line and Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, shows not meant for performers who are pretty but untalented.

“I’m friends with Rob Ashford [Pippin’s choreographer],” Noseworthy says in explaining how this project came about for him. “We’ve known each other for quite some time, and he approached me about doing Pippin. Other than some benefits, the only stage work I’ve done in Los Angeles was a production of Equus at the West Coast Ensemble about five years ago. That was spectacular. It was supposed to run five weeks, but it ran for five months.”

Currently enjoying quality screen time as Wentz in the blockbuster film U-571, Noseworthy shone during Pippin‘s press preview as his high, clear tenor soared through one of Schwartz’s most beautiful songs, “Corner of the Sky.” What prompted him to climb out of the sub and do a musical? “Ultimately, I decided that I needed to get back on stage–to feed that beast again,” he says. “I do feel like I have these abilities; I can sing, and I can dance. Sometimes, I have felt that they’ve gone to waste. But I’ve always known that, if I kept them somewhat up to par by taking classes, they’d still be there for me when the time came to use them.”

The yin to Noseworthy’s yang in Pippin is Jim Newman as the Leading Player–a role famously filled by Ben Vereen in the original production and almost always played by an African-American ever since. So, is this an example of non-traditional casting? “Absolutely!” says Newman. “I’m kind of glad that they changed it, because you’re less likely to miss Ben Vereen as much. Those are hard shoes to fill! You know, it’s like anybody else but Patti LuPone playing Evita.”

Given the vulnerable little boy quality diplayed by Newman as the star of the national tour of Big and in such other roles as Happy in Steel Pier on Broadway, the slick, worldly Leading Player might be thought of as a departure for him. “People who know me, when I told them I was cast in the show, assumed I was playing Pippin,” he admits. “The concept of this production is that Pippin and the Leading Player are sort of like Matt Damon and Ben Affleck; we’re really buddies, until I turn on him in the end.”


Stephen Schwartz
Stephen Schwartz

Pippin, based loosely on the exploits of the son of Charlemagne, originally played on Broadway for more than 1,000 performances. Creators Schwartz and Hirson have taken a hands-on role for the Paper Mill production, and both were present at the press preview. Notes Johanson, “Stephen has worked with us before; we had wonderful collaborations on both Children of Eden and Rags. We wondered if we could revive Pippin, in the sense of breathing new life into it.” Says Schwartz, “Roger and I have been approached frequently in the last several years about re-doing the show in a major production, but we weren’t thrilled about some of the ideas proposed. When Robert [Johanson] talked to us about doing it, it seemed we might be able to achieve a balance between contemporizing the show and changing it. Hopefully, what we’ll achieve is a show that looks completely different but, in many ways, is exactly the same.”

Though Schwartz reportedly clashed with Fosse during rehearsals for Pippin back in 1972, he now speaks of the great director/choreographer in only the most respectful terms. “I think some of the choices we’ve made are, perhaps, choices that Bob would have gone to today,” Schwartz maintains in discussing revisions for the Paper Mill production. “We’ve discovered a new ending that I think he would have loved.

“Bob and I were very strong personalities,” Schwartz continues. “I still am–and probably, wherever he is, he still is, too! There were some clashes. I think part of it had to do with the fact that Bob was never easy for writers to work with, and part of it was that I was 23 or 24 years old. I had no experience of how to deal with somebody like that. But I’m a lot older know–and I find that, in some ironic way, I’ve become the guardian of Bob’s vision. One of the things we did in this production is that we’ve restored the staging of ‘With You,’ which I initially objected to.”

Despite their differences, Schwartz firmly denies that Fosse eventually had him banned from rehearsals of the Broadway Pippin. “What happens is that the press blows things up,” he says. “I won’t pretend that we didn’t have our disagreements, but I was around rehearsals a lot, because Bob asked me to do things. I basically wrote ‘On the Right Track’ and ‘Spread a Little Sunshine’ during rehearsals in New York, and then I did two songs out of town in Washington: ‘Love Song’ and ‘Extraordinary’ replaced two other songs that were in more or less the same spots.”

Quite apart from a great score, terrific choreography, and lots of hot bodies on stage, Paper Mill’s Pippin has much to offer in other areas. The fabulous Charlotte Rae, star of Broadway and TV, is playing Pippin’s grandmother, Berthe. Costumes are by Gene Meyer and Gregg Barnes, scenic design by Paper Mill veteran Michael Anania, and musical direction by Danny Kosarin. The show will feature flying by Foy, and Charles Reynolds is the “magic consultant.” In general, Paper Mill is famous for throwing lots of money at every aspect of its productions (“I had my costume fittings at Gucci!” enthuses Jim Newman), so those who attend can expect their eyes and ears to be thoroughly delighted.

And what about the “new ending” to the show, alluded to by Schwartz? “They’re taking a wonderfully real approach to the second act,” says Natascia A. Diaz, who plays Pippin’s love interest, Catherine. “They’re grounding all the stuff that Fosse sort of kept fantastical. The show says the same thing it did before, but in a different way. It’s an Everyman and Everywoman story.”

According to Schwartz, “Neither Roger nor Bob nor myself felt we ever really got the end of the show; we knew what we wanted, but we just couldn’t get it. A couple of years ago, I saw a production overseas which was not very good overall; but they had changed the ending, and it was great. As soon as I saw it, I called Roger and told him about it. It was exactly what we had been looking for: It’s dark and honest, but it makes you smile as well.”

Though Pippin is very much a product of its time, Schwartz sees in it many themes that are by no means dated: “It’s about a young man with infinite choices in his life, trying to figure out what will fulfill him. There’s a dark side to Pippin’s nature. He’s struggling to find something that he can care about without destroying himself. When I say it out loud like that, it sounds sort of heavy and pretentious–but that is what it’s about. It’s a journey that all of us take.”