A nice thing about being over 50 is that you can have a second (or third) crack at experiences like great vacation spots, fabulous restaurants and exciting shows. It’s fun to compare the experiences we remember from many years ago with the after-50 experience.
I sometimes find that time has not been good to a particular resort or restaurant or that a revival of an old favorite show does not live up to expectations. Memories always tend to forget the mediocre, and magnify the good or bad. And often, it’s difficult for my over-50 self to have the same pleasurable experience I had 30 or 40 years ago. But every once in a while the restaurant, beach, or show is as good as I remember – or better.
I had that experience recently when my daughter took me to see the Broadway revival of “Pippin.” I was 19 years old back in 1972 when I saw the original production of “Pippin” with Ben Vereen and Jon Rubenstein. I remember I was home on Thanksgiving break from college, and I went into Manhattan alone and bought front mezzanine tickets for $12.
I still get chills remembering the sustained opening note in the orchestra as the curtain opened to a stage full of smoke, and Ben Vereen appeared, dressed in black, leading the cast onstage.
“Join Us” he sang. “We’ve Got Magic to Do.”
And boy, did they! Bob Fosse’s dancers were mesmerizing. Stephen Schwartz’s music was phenomenal. “Pippin” was the show that got me hooked on musicals.
Fast forward 41 years, and I now have a 26-year-old daughter. This daughter happens upon some tickets to “Pippin.” She knows that her father is crazy about the show because she was raised listening to the original cast album. She invites him to join her to see the first Broadway revival of the show.
This Broadway revival, directed by Diane Paulus, re-imagines the show. The cast is full of talented circus performers who juggle fire, tumble, perform balancing acts, and what look to be dangerous feats high above the stage. Back in 1972, Pippin was searching for meaning in his life. In 2014, he has figuratively run away and joined the circus.
Anyway, as I sat in my seat listening to the start of the show, I felt, again, the excitement I felt at 19. Oh sure, there are lots of changes. The role Ben Vereen played is now played brilliantly by a woman, Patina Miller, and the smoke is gone from the opening number. The show now begins with the curtain down. The cast peeks through the curtain at first, and beckons us with their hands to “Join Us.”
And then comes the drop-dead moment, when the curtain flies out, and the circus set is revealed. Suddenly, I had the biggest smile on my face, and tears appeared in my eyes. Here was artistry that touched my over-50 soul just as profoundly as it did when I was a teenager. There was “Magic to Do” again. But this time I was not alone. A young woman, who I had raised to love theater, was enjoying it with me. That increased the enjoyment to another level.
The rest of the show was full of great moments that brought back memories of the original production. Tovah Feldshuh, at 62, was much more animated than Irene Ryan was in 1972. And Rachel Bay Jones was a lot funnier than Jill Clayburgh was in the original cast as Pippin’s love interest. All in all, the new version equaled or topped the original production in almost every way, and that’s saying a lot.
Revisiting great experiences from our youth can be perilous for the over-50 crowd. But every once in a while, we are lucky enough to recreate the magic. And when that happens, the enjoyment seems to increase geometrically. It puts a new spin on the phrase “senior moment.” Sometimes things are better the second time around.