This past weekend, I was in Minneapolis for a Moot Court competition (my team won third place and I got an award for being one of the best oralists so it was a very successful trip). While there, I bought a ticket to see the musical Pippin which I had never seen or heard before. I came into the musical completely not knowing what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised not only by the incredible direction and choreography of the revival, but by the Gospel friendly plot that unfolded.
For those who have not seen Pippin, the story is told by a narrator who is the head of (in the revival at least) a Circus troop. She tells the story of Pippin who is the son of the ancient king Charlamange. The narrator expressly describes this as a “miracle play” which suggests that ultimately it will teach a moral lesson about life. (“Magic to do”). As the story turns to Pippin, he is just graduating from University and seeking purpose in his life.
One of the most well known songs from the musical is called Corner of the Sky and has Pippin singing about his yearning for meaning in life. Pippin longs for greatness and for life to be “Something more than long….” He laments that “[s]o many men seem destined To settle for something small” and declares “But I won’t rest until I know I’ll have it all. So don’t ask where I’m going. Just listen when I’m gone. And far away you’ll hear me singing [s]oftly to the dawn.” He longs “to be where my spirit can run free” and declares that he’s “[g]ot to find my corner of the sky.”
The narrator encourages Pippin to try a variety of activities in order to find meaning in life. He goes to war and engages in a bloody battle seeking “Jubilations!” and “a grateful nation’s Cheers!” but finds it horrific and empty. Encouraged by his grandmother, he begins to live a life of debauchery and sexuality, but feels empty as well. He tries music, and religion without success. Then, he becomes a political revolutionary and kills his father to take over the throne and bring justice to the kingdom, but finds that this only brings him greater troubles.
Depressed, Pippin wonders if he will ever find his happiness. The narrator urges him onward declaring that he is “on the right track” and that “each step’s indispensable.” Yet, Pippin despairs and ultimately collapses in a state of grief. He is revived by a widow who finds him on the road and puts him to bed and ensures “that he’s bathed and clothed and fed.” She is a self-described “everyday, customary kind of woman” who is “Practical as salt” and “Modest to a fault,” but Pippin develops a relationship with her. He helps around her farm, but yet longs for something more. Filled with delusions of grandeur Pippin declares that “When you’re extraordinary [y]ou gotta do extraordinary things.” In regard to the everyday tasks of life, Pippin declares “Well, I’m terribly sorry but I don’t care” he sees them as something that only those less extraordinary than him should be required to do: And don’t make me think about everyday things. They’re unnecessary To someone who is very Extraordinary Like me!”
Yet, Pippin and the widow (Catherine) fall in love as they talk until dawn and develop a strong relationship. Pippin however is extremely moody and focused on his own happiness. As Catherine explains, “Some days he’d scowl and curse” and he had “His gloomy solitudes” and “His blunt abrasive style.” Ultimately, Pippin decides that he must leave to find his purpose in life.
The narrator urges Pippin to perform the finale act in the circus which would involve his death in a blaze of glory. She taunts him by urging him to “Think about your life, Pippin . . .Days are tame and nights the same . . . Now think about the beauty . . . In one perfect flame . . .And the angels of the morning . . . Are calling out your name.”
Pippin is tempted and yet finally realizes that “if I’m never tied to anything I’ll never be free.” Pippin declares his love for Catherine and explains “I wanted magic shows and miracles Mirages to touch I wanted such a little thing from life I wanted so much I never came close, my love We never came near It never was there I think it was here.” Despite the seductiveness of the narrator’s offer of “crimson, gold and lavender: A shining parade” Pippin realizes that “there’s no color I can have on earth That won’t finally fade.”
The show ends on an interesting note, but showing that Catherine’s son for whom Pippin serves as a father figure has also begun to hear the seductive songs of the narrator and has begun to dream of grandeur and finding his corner of the sky. As such, the show suggests that Pippin’s indulgent focus on grandeur is a manifestation of youth that all of us must overcome or be overcome by.
The message of the show ultimately really resonated with me. In my youth in particular, I was filled with really strong delusions of grandeur. Everything seemed more important than the basic relationship and persons around me. I neglected people I cared about in order to spend time seeking to right a great political wrong or make a meaningful contribution to society. I saw myself as a great poet and writer. Yet, all of these desires didn’t truly bring happiness. From all of them, I only felt emptiness and a lack of ultimate meaning.
I am grateful for the role that the Gospel of Jesus Christ plays in giving me that higher purpose and direction that I had been missing. It truly helps me to focus on the things that do not finally fade.
Since being married, I have found that I still sometimes struggle with those same temptations to grandeur and to take upon myself more than I can handle. In law school, I feel the relentless drive to take on as much as I can. Having done really well in law school actually makes it harder to settle for anything other than the most prestigious position I can find. And yet, I also deep down know that these things cannot bring ultimate happiness. A job and a career can be incredibly satisfying and yet they must be means to an end. That end must be life eternal united with family and those we love. Diversions come and go, tasks and assignments fade but the relationships we form are ever lasting and significant.
When I now think of my Corner of the Sky, it is surrounded by those whom I love and filled with happiness and laughter. It will not be a piece of heaven because of the legal work I did during my life, but because of the work of salvation that I did in my own home.
Watching Pippin was for me a great reminder of the importance of setting proper priorities and focused on the things that truly matter most. Pippin drifted because he was tied to nothing. As members of Christ’s Church, we are tied to him and to each other with cords stronger than death. May we always prioritize and place those things that matter most at the center of our lives.