Falls Church’s Meridian High School students are presenting the Tony Award-winning musical play, “Pippin,” in performances this weekend in the new school’s auditorium.
Charlemagne, we read in Einhard’s early life of the medieval Frankish king, “wrote out the barbarous and ancient songs, in which the acts of the kings and their wars were sung…” While the musical “Pippin” does treat Charlemagne and his son Pippin, the songs and acts are not tied to historical tradition and fact but rather to the imaginations of composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz and librettist Roger O. Hirson.
This Tony Award winning 1972 musical, borrowing these historical personages for creative play, is to be performed this weekend at Meridian High by students under the guidance of Shawn Northrip. The student cast will include Hana Saldate as the Leading Player, Matthew Bloss-Baum as Pippin, Alex Steinbach as Charles the Great (Charlemagne), and Emma Hart as Catherine.
Twenty years ago, Mr. Northrip recounted in an interview with the News-Press that he was student-teaching at Lake Braddock High School with R.L. Mirabal. “This was the musical the high school was putting on,” he relayed to the News-Press. “I’ve loved it ever since and have always wanted to do it, but it is a particularly large and challenging show. For the past two years, due to the pandemic, we’ve been doing small shows, with small casts and small bands. This year, when we decided it was time to do something big again, with a large cast and a full pit, this was the show I proposed.”
The high school students in the cast know who Charlemagne was, as they study him in history classes. “To be honest,” Mr. Northrip says, “the show is not really about him or Pippin, historically speaking. It is about a company of traveling players putting on the story of a young adult trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life, and the kids know this feeling very well.”
The show also has much to offer in its insights into familial relationships, as the father Charlemagne and the son Pippin do not often spend close time together or communicate in a large, busy court of court people and soldiers coming and going. A step-mother and step-brother also complicate life for Pippin, and there is the matter of whether to conform to his upbringing and his social milieu or whether to rebel against it.
In addition to updating historical personalities and situations to contemporary themes, “this hip, tongue-in-cheek, anachronistic fairy tale,” as “Broadway World Richmond” terms the Meridian High School production, was and is groundbreaking in several ways. First of all, the music took on less of a traditional Rodgers and Hammerstein orchestral Broadway sound and introduced more of a then-current pop sound. Also, the show often “breaks the fourth wall” and engages the audience directly.
This production of “Pippin” is unique (particularly after austere production offerings during the pandemic) in that it employs elaborate costumes as well as sets which evoke the past. Coincidentally, it is the same show that was performed by students at the nearby Justice High School off Sleepy Hollow Road earlier this month.
The Meridian High production runs the next three nights, Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 17, 18, and 19, at Meridian High School, 121 Mustang Alley, Falls Church, Virginia 22043. The production goes from 7:30 p.m. — 10:00 p.m.