The Oxford English Dictionary defines “revival” as “an example of something becoming popular, active or important again”. This is exactly what one hopes for when Australian musical theater emerges from its prolonged hibernation in November, with the Tony Award. Reinette apple welcome back the audience to the 2000-seat Lyric Theater in Sydney.
More than any other aspect of the arts, musical theater is inherently fragile – with productions often requiring a capital investment of $ 15-20 million, its resurgence can make or break the future of theaters around the world. In this more sanitized world, can the public afford expensive theater tickets? Unlike cinema and television theater, musical theater cannot come to us; we have to go. And for management teams, that means ensuring not only that sites are safe for COVID, but that the marketing is carefully presented in both health and economic terms. Its failure would forever change the face of the theater. As is the nature of revivals, we can very well predict that Reinette apple will address new sensibilities and potentially new audiences. Musical theater has the potential to transport, engage and rejuvenate audiences, which is essential in today’s climate. But is Reinette apple is for entertainment only, or does it have a much darker side that resonates too uncomfortably with modern life? Maybe looking at the âfive W’sâ – who, what, when, where, why – of the story can reveal the true purpose of this musicalâ¦
The “Five W’s” of Reinette apple
Ever since he burst onto the scene in 1972, Reinette apple had the potential to be produced either as a bouncy extravaganza or as a disturbing “black box” tale – Bob Fosse, director of the original Broadway production, certainly viewed the screenplay from the latter perspective. Given the timing, it certainly feels like the characters, story arc, context, and motifs lend themselves to a modern take – both unsettling and upbeat.
Prince Pippin, the eponymous protagonist, is a character many of us can relate to: he is “lost”, unhappy, without direction; he aspires to a life full of meaning but does not have a “road map” as a guide. Such an existential crisis could apply to any of us; it could certainly echo the plight of many of us who have recently had to question and rethink our lives in the midst of an international health crisis and its impact. Like most of us, Pippin wants to be more than ordinary; he wants to find his “corner of the sky”, perhaps in part because of his physical shortcomings (he is known as Pepin the Hunchback). Coming out of college, Pippin’s dilemma about what to do with his life will undoubtedly strike a chord with today’s graduates. It is a generation who have been made to believe that dreams can be made come true and hard work will be rewarded. Current events have stopped that notion, COVID-19 a devastating reality bite.
Pippin is the eldest son of King Charles (Charlemagne), a stereotypical authority figure. The stereotypes don’t end there: Pippin’s stepmother Fastrada is a fairytale type – she describes herself as an ordinary housewife, but in reality, she’s a Machiavellian character plotting the assassination. from her husband ; his son, Lewis, is more muscular than cerebral. Lewis also serves as a rival for the king’s affections. Pippin and Lewis are diametrically opposed in every way: where Lewis is physical and courageous, Pippin is introspective and cerebral. In some productions Lewis is portrayed as a homosexual, undermining the illusion that appearances can be taken at face value. The blurring of appearance and reality abounds. Perhaps the most symbolic character of all, however, is the main player, who in a sense plays devil’s advocate, seductively suggesting that Pippin’s accomplishment lies in extraordinary feats and inhabiting his psyche. – and that of the audience -: âWhy, we are right inside your heads.â The main player and the cast are not real, of course, but a theatrical construction. Is there a message here? Yes: put aside the right and enjoy the ordinary.
When and where?
Pippin’s father, Charles, ruled the Franks from 768 to 774. The stereotypical characters offer the promise of a fairy tale, with a happy ending. This might lead us to think that Reinette apple is something of an anachronism. After all, what possible relevance could a story that takes place so long ago in a faraway place have for us here and now? Quite a lot, actually. Time and place don’t matter: Pippin’s story is universal and transcends the boundaries of place and historical context – the story of a quest to be special in a world that’s meant to remind us that we often have to install and enhance the socialite. More optimistic, it’s a story that teaches us that the socialite is special.
So, Reinette apple is the story of a young man’s odyssey, his journey of self-discovery. In German literature, there is a term for this kind of story: bildungsroman, translated as “educational novel”, and Pippin certainly undergoes a spiritual awakening in this musical. Pippin has no idea what to do with his life, but a traveling troop of players are readily available to point the way – or so it seems. Pippin doesn’t for a moment suspect that the troop simply wants him to obey their orders, resulting in the protagonist himself extinguishing himself in a burst of glory – namely, committing suicide by setting himself on fire. . The play’s idealistic namesake aims to find success and happiness in a range of arenas and excesses, including battlefield glories and political machinations. Every business fails. Perfection can only be sought in the âglorious synthesis of life and deathâ that is self-immolation live on stage. This, Pippin resists. The public is then offered the opportunity to do what Pippin will not do. This is where the objective of the lead actor and the troupe comes in: from the start, they crossed the âfourth wallâ (interacting with the audience), thus blurring the line between performance and reality. It is Stanislavsky’s “public solitude”, allowing the public to witness Pippin’s private concerns as they unfold. This suggests that the Players are, in fact, a manifestation of imagination and unrealistic expectations. This is as true for the public as it is for Pippin. Stephen Schwartz, three-time Oscar winner and four-time Grammy winner, composer of Reinette apple, described the Players as follows:
The actors aren’t so malicious as they are eternally cynical and dissatisfied, for nothing in real life can be glamorous or spectacular enough to achieve the kind of fictionalized perfection that we carryâ¦ in our heads.
Pippin finally learns this lesson and is satisfied with the simplicity of an ordinary life, devoid of spectacle and fame.
It would seem that Pippin is the perfect performance to mark the return of musical theater, and the reasons are threefold: In a literal sense, this musical is a joyous and spectacular crowd pleaser, a celebration of the medium – and can be fully enjoyed. on this sole basis; for an audience looking for a subtext or looking at the performance through a more cynical lens, then this story can undoubtedly be a tale of our time; finally, on a practical level, it is a source production, with the capacity to attract old and new customers.
Will this production be a resounding success? Will this herald a new and exciting stage in the history of musical theater? Nothing can be taken for granted; we have learned a lot. Let us be inspired by Reinette apple himself: accept reality, crossing your fingers behind your back.
Tony Award Winner Tickets APPLE REINETTE, premiering at Sydney Lyric at The Star in November 2020, are available via TakeYourSeats HERE.