A Broadway presence for over half a century, Donald Pippin has worked on some of the greatest hits in musical theater as a conductor, music director, arranger, and songwriter. His celebrated collaborations with Jerry Herman, spanning several decades, include Mame and La Cage aux Folles. In 1963, he won a Tony® for his work in Oliver!, and in 1986 he was awarded a Drama Desk Special Award for musical direction and commitment to theater.
Born in Macon, Georgia, in 1931, Pippin notched his first Broadway credit in 1955, when he provided extra dance music for the musical Ankles Aweigh. For the 1960 hit Irma la Douce, which ran for 524 performances, Pippin was assistant conductor.
His breakthrough, however, came in 1963, when he took his place as Music Director and Conductor of Oliver!, the musical after Dickens’s Oliver Twist that proved a huge success on Broadway, with over 774 performances. The show won multiple Tonys®, with Pippin snagging one for Best Conductor and Musical Director. As if that production hadn’t been enough to keep him busy in 1963, Pippin was Musical Director for 110 in the Shade, another hit musical, this one based on N.R. Nash’s play The Rainmaker.
The legendary Bert Lahr (of Cowardly Lion fame) won the Tony® for Best Actor in a Musical in Pippin’s next Broadway outing, Foxy (1964); and in Ben Franklin in Paris (1964), Pippin, its Music Director, began his long association with Jerry Herman, who ghostwrote additional music and lyrics for the work, and with whom Pippin felt “an instant bonding of musical minds and friendship.”
The next collaboration between Herman and Pippin took place in 1966, when Herman wrote the music and lyrics for the mega-hit Mame (1,508 performances on Broadway) and Pippin served as Musical Director. The show won scads of Tony Awards® and nominations, with stars Angela Lansbury and Beatrice Arthur walking off with the Awards for Best Actress and Best Featured Actress in a Musical.
Lansbury scored another Tony® for Best Actress in a Musical in the next Herman-Pippin collaboration, Dear World (1969), based on The Madwoman of Chaillot. This was followed by Applause (1970), a musical by Charles Strouse, Lee Adams, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green. Based on the movie All About Eve, the musical starred Lauren Bacall, who delivered a Tony®-winning performance.
After working on Seesaw (1973) and Mack & Mabel (1974), Pippin music-directed the monster hit A Chorus Line (1975), which played for a walloping 6,137 performances (a record at the time) and feasted on a cornucopia of Tonys®.
Pippin and Herman were reunited in 1979, when they both worked on The Grand Tour, a musical based on Werfel’s play Jacobowsky and the Colonel. Pippin was also Music Director for Woman of the Year (1981), starring Lauren Bacall, which played for 770 performances. Another Herman-Pippin hit was La Cage aux Folles (1983).
Later Broadway productions include Teddy & Alice (1987), Catskills on Broadway (1991), The Red Shoes (1993), Dream (1997), and the 2006 revival of A Chorus Line.
In March 2009, Pippin conducted the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in “Jerry Herman’s Broadway,” a tribute to his longtime collaborator.
Photo courtesy of Photofest