Yesterday, I wrote about losing my inspiration and today, just like that, it was restored. All it took was a little music.
My sister and I were driving around today listening to the original cast album from “Pippin" — not the new revival, but from the original production from the ‘70s. I grew up on that album and she and I remembered almost every word to every song. "Pippin" doesn’t have a strong book, if I recall, but the music is still great. I loved the musical so much that I named my first cat Pippin.
Many of you will remember that Michael Jackson had a hit with his cover of “Corner Of The Sky” from “Pippin.” That was from a time when it wasn’t unheard of for Broadway songs to get remade and become Top 40 hits. That just doesn’t happen anymore. I’m sure I’m forgetting a song or two, but the last major pop hit I remember from a Broadway play is “One Night In Bangkok” from “Chess.” It hit No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the mid-‘80s by Murray Head. I know “Rent” and “Wicked” (also written by “Pippin’s” composer Stephen Schwartz) were obviously very popular, but I don’t think they spawned Top 40 hits. It feels like “Glee” has taken over that role. Susan Boyle had a hit with “I Dreamed A Dream” from “Les Miserables” in a number of countries, but her version peaked at No. 62 here.
I was reading the booklet that came with the “Pippin” CD (from a 2000 re-issue) and it turns out that Jackson’s cutting “Corner of the Sky” helped fund the original play. Motown agreed to help capitalize “Pippin” and part of the deal was that Jackson would record the track, which everyone from Schwartz to director/choreographer Bob Fosse on down felt was that best song in the bunch. The song became a hit before the play opened on Broadway and helped advance ticket sales. Can you imagine that happening today? It certainly didn’t happen with “Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark.”
In April, I was in Washington, D.C. for one of my best friend’s daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. Jacqueline and her sister, Olivia, were obsessed with “Les Miserables” and the soundtrack to the movie version, which had come out a few months before. That’s all we listened to both in the house and in the car. A few years ago, they’d had a similar devotion to the soundtrack to “Wicked,” so my friend and I and the girls hung out on my bed one afternoon and we listened to “Pippin," sharing a little Schwartz with them. It made my friend and I smile to think her girls would have their own Broadway musicals that they’d remember so fondly a few decades later just like we did. I really hope 30 years from now Olivia and Jacqueline are riding around in a car, a revival of “Wicked” has opened, and they put on the cast album and sing “Popular” at the top of their lungs and smile and laugh like my sister and I did today.
Since I’m in North Carolina, today I’m giving to North Carolina School of the Arts. It’s a wonderful, highly respected arts college with programs in drama, film making, music, visual arts, dance and design and production. A number of famous people studied there, including Mary-Louise Parker, Thomas Hulce, Chris Parnell, Jada Pinkett Smith, Celia Weston and two actors I had the pleasure to act with and will write about in a future post. But, in the meantime, I have to get back to belting out songs from “Pippin.” I have magic to do... just for you.
Sept. 6: University of North Carolina School of the Arts http://www.uncsa.edu/