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history repeating

‘Pippin’: Then and now

The revival of “Pippin” at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge.

The revival of “Pippin” at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge.

Click here to see the before and after graphic of the two cover designs.

“An amiable and racy musical, ‘Pippin,’ which arrived at the Imperial Theater last night, has three great things to commend it. It is one of the best musical stagings to be seen on Broadway in years, it is most beautifully designed and it might well do for the actor Ben Vereen what ‘Cabaret’ did for Joel Grey.”

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That’s what The New York Times had to say on Oct. 24, 1972, about this new musical that was opening on Broadway, directed by the legendary Bob Fosse. And that’s the original “Pippin” Playbill from 1972, notable for how stark and simple it is, just some artistic black and white lettering and nothing more.

Forty years later, on Jan. 4, 2013, The Boston Globe had this to say about the revival of “Pippin” at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge under the direction of Diane Paulus, which would soon go on to Broadway: “The ART production melds extraordinary circus acrobatics and magical illusions with ‘ordinary’ virtues like accomplished acting, singing, and dancing plus a refreshing lack of cynicism.”

The two productions now have something else in common — some hardware from the Tony Awards. In 1973, Vereen took home the Tony for best performance by a leading actor in a musical, and Fosse won for best choreography. And in 2013, at last Sunday’s Tonys, Patina Miller won for best performance by a leading actress in a musical and Paulus took the Tony for best direction of a musical.

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One thing the original and the revival most definitely do not share is their cover designs. The ART went with a tight close-up of its own “Pippin,” the boyishy handsome, bare-shouldered Matthew James Thomas, nothing like the Playbill black-and-white text cover from 1972.

Two eras of musicals, two cities, two distinct approaches to the marketing of a production, but in the end, just over 40 years apart, “Pippin” shined just as brightly come Tony time.

Doug Most can be reached at dmost@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Globedougmost.
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