he musical Pippin is a coming of age story about entering the adult world for the first time. Pippin, the main character, has just graduated from college and tries a million different things to make his life meaningful, hoping to find something that will lift him out of his mundane life and make him great. When all his grand ideas fail, he realizes that love is the most important thing a person can aspire to. Shepherding Pippin through life is the Main Player and his band of ensemble who make Pippin’s life magical, lead him astray, and in the end, try to convince him to kill himself in a blaze of glory because it would make an exciting finale. The story of Pippin is easily relatable to any life, to the grand dreams we all have as young adults, but the production seems especially suited to reflect Deaf Culture. The producers at Deaf West Theater undoubtedly realized this when they staged their magical version of Pippin, blending American Sign Language and English seamlessly into the best production I’ve ever seen.
Everything about the musical seemed magical. From the moment the disembodied, red hands rose from the floor and started signing, to the moment the Main Player sliced Pippin in half and made him into two people, to the six men who came out from under Pippin’s Grandmother’s huge skirt and started singing, everything about the production was surprising and delightful. It was impossible to know what was around the next corner, and I couldn’t wait to find out. The costumes and props reminded me of something taken from a deck of cards, but spicier and more fun, and the sets were incredible yet simple at the same time. Though it’s so hard to pick just one thing, I think my favorite part about the show was how the choreography was staged. Signs were transformed into movement that looked and read like dancing, but conveyed the exact feeling of the music happening on stage. It’s the first time I’ve seen signing to music that actually conveyed the mood of the song being sung, and not just a transcript of what the song’s words are.
While I don’t want to presume to speak for others, I believe that the story of Pippin is especially poignant when performed with Deaf players. I have seen many magic shows take place in the Deaf community around Southern California, and it seems like the magic throughout Pippin is an extension of the magic in the community. Another place I think the show hits home is through the character of Pippin himself. He arrives on the scene completely exuberant, yet unable to communicate. The Main Player slices him in half and suddenly he is two people: The speaking Pippin and the signing Pippin. Untimately the speaking Pippin is an extension of the Main Player himself, and when Pippin refuses to cooperate and die in a blaze of glory, he is stripped of his clothes, his voice, and all the magic the Main Player has surrounded him with. He is left instead with the woman and boy that he loves, and he finds a new voice when she starts to interpret his words for the audience. I’m sure that Pippin’s struggle to communicate is easily relatable to many Deaf people, as is Pippin’s struggle to find a voice of his own.
After this wonderful experience, I have decided that Pippin is my new favorite musical (it used to be Will Rogers Follies). It spoke both cross-culturally and poignantly, using a blend of American Sign Language and English to effortlessly depict it’s relevant story line. It’s no wonder Deaf West Theater has won so many awards. I can’t wait to see what they come out with next.