Countdown to PIPPIN with The ‘Pippin’ Profiles: Diane Paulus on directing without a net

The ‘Pippin’ Profiles: Diane Paulus on directing without a net

by John Moore | Aug 22, 2014

Diane Paulus

Diane Paulus

Director Diane Paulus’ mantra as an artist is to always expand the boundaries of theatre … or why bother?

“As a director,” she says, “one of my biggest interests is creating a visceral experience for audiences.”

Audiences will be feeling visceral come Sept. 6, when the national touring production of Paulus’ Tony-winning musical revival Pippin launches in Denver. They will be witnessing death-defying flips, tight-rope walks, knife-juggling and more. And “those acrobatic tricks you see are real, “ she said, “and they are real every night.”

That means be no protective cables. No safety nets.

“With every performance, those are real, extraordinary achievements happening on that stage. It’s live. It’s happening there. And the audience witnesses it in the moment. And that makes the production so immediate.”

It is that kind of theatrical daring that earned Paulus spot on Time Magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. … In the world.

Paulus is the Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard University in Boston, where she debuted Pippin on its way to Broadway; and where she just opened a pre-Broadway run of a new Peter Pan musical based on the film Finding Neverland.

Pippin Profile 2 - Photo 2

Paulus brought the London theatrical phenomenon Sleep No More to America in 2011 on its way to New York. That’s an immersive version of Macbeth that plays out on multiple floors of a warehouse in the meatpacking district of Manhattan. Paulus calls that kind of thing “adventure theatre.”

The same can be said of Pippin. Paulus got the green light to mount the first major revival of Pippin in 40 years when she told composer Stephen Schwartz she wanted to set his story of a young man search’s for meaning in the dangerous world of the circus.

“It wasn’t about layering something on that didn’t need to be there,” Paulus said. “It was about the theme of the story: How far are we willing to go to be extraordinary in our lives? That question is at the heart of Pippin’s journey. That question is also at the heart of every circus performer’s life. And it’s a literal one: How far will I go? Will I jump and land upside down on someone’s hand? Will I leap through a hoop on fire? How far can I push my human body to aspire to be extraordinary?”

What follows are excerpts from our expansive interview with one of the leading figures in the American theatre.

John Moore: We’re talking to you as you are just days away from opening the Broadway-bound Finding Neverland at your American Repertory Theatre in Boston.
Diane Paulus: Yes, we are in the middle of previews right now.

John Moore: Well, then, I can’t imagine how you can be in any kind of a Pippinheadspace, so thank you for making time.

Diane Paulus: It’s a little crazy, but I have my Pippin T-shirt on right now, so I am already in Pippin land a little bit. It’s all good.

John Moore: What was your introduction to Pippin?

Diane Paulus: I saw Pippin as a little girl growing up in New York City. I was 8 years old, and seeing it on Broadway marked me. It made such a huge impression. I remembered those characters. I remembered that world that (Director and Choreographer) Bob Fosse put on stage. I remembered Ben Vereen and all those players. And of course, I grew up on the score. I wore out my album. I played Corner of the Sky on the piano. I also sang With You at my brother’s wedding — not really understanding that, in the show, that’s a song about Pippin getting together with a lot of different women. I sing No Time at Allwith my college friends at our reunions. So I’ve been living that Pippin score my whole life. I have always wanted to touch this show again.

John Moore: What appealed to you most about revisiting it?

Diane Paulus: A lot of people remember the Fosse and they remember the music, but you don’t have a lot of people saying to you, ‘Oh, what an amazing story.’ But I have always felt there was a very powerful and important story there. To me, Pippin is almost a pageant play, like a trial of the soul in all these different stages of a man’s life that are theatricalized — going to war, the temptation of the flesh, the ordinary life. Pippin is the son of King Charlemagne, but he could stand in as an everyman. I got very excited about trying to make the meaning of his story viscerally felt.

John Moore: And what does it mean — to you?

Diane Paulus: For me, the theme of Pippin is this: How far do we go to be extraordinary in our lives? Right now, that is such a relevant question — more than ever. Just how far do we push ourselves? What is glory? What is it to be extraordinary, and what are the choices that we make in our lives? Ultimately, what I love about Pippin is that it’s not a moralistic story. It doesn’t say, ‘Well, here’s the right answer.’ It really puts the question out to the audience. When we first did Pippin up at A.R.T. (in Boston), we’re in a college town, and there were young college kids coming to see the show who were completely relating to Pippin. They were asking questions like, ‘What am I doing with my life?’ ‘What is my purpose in life?’ ‘What am I going to be, and who am I, and why am I here on the planet?’ And you know what? I am a mom in my 40s, and I am thinking about things like, ‘What are the choices I’ve made, and how do I negotiate a career and a family, and what does it mean to be extraordinary in my life?’ Over the course of this production, I have seen entire generations of people affected by it. I saw an elderly man in his 80s weeping at the end of the show, and I just thought, ‘Cleary, this show pushes you to think about the choices you are making, or the choices you have made in your life.’

Pippin Profile 2 - Photo 3

John Moore: So what was your biggest directorial challenge?

Diane Paulus: My biggest directorial challenge was determining what the world of this play was going to be.

John Moore: (Composer) Stephen Schwartz told me you weren’t the first to come to him wanting to put Pippin in a circus. But he did say that your concept was the best. How did you came up with your idea, and what was the pitch?

Diane Paulus: I really got interested in this idea of circus because, to me, the show has to have an identity for the troupe of players. And the circus has such a strong identity. It’s a traveling family that pitches their tent from town to town. They transform the lives of the people who dare to enter that tent. And then they pick up and leave, and they go somewhere else. So you don’t ever really know a lot about who those circus people are. You don’t think about them doing ordinary things like going to the supermarket and cooking. They just sort of come alive for you for as long as they are in that tent. It’s a fantasy world. That was the hook for me: What if this group is a circus troupe, and they have come to town, and they have pitched their tent, and the Leading Player is literally standing outside that tent seducing you, the audience, to come inside and ‘join us.’ And if you dare to enter that tent, who knows what you will experience? Who knows how you will be transformed? You might be so transformed that you might even decide that you want to run away with the circus. That’s another metaphor for me: How many of us in our lives have wanted to run away with the circus? Either literally, or metaphorically? When in our lives have we decided to take that leap—and when have we decided, “No,” because, for any number of reasons, I can’t run away with the circus right now. I have to choose other things. That was the metaphor me.

John Moore: Your goal is always to expand the boundaries of theatre, and that certainly seems to be what the circus achieves in Pippin.

Diane Paulus: I have been a great admirer of Les 7 doigts de la main (The 7 Fingers of the Hand). So when I met (Circus Creator) Gypsy Snider, I asked if she would ever want to work on a musical. And then we started talking about Pippin, and the theme meant so much to her. That’s when I knew this collaboration would work. Because it wasn’t about layering something on that didn’t need to be there. It was about the theme of the story: How far are we willing to go to be extraordinary in our lives? That question is at the heart of every acrobat and circus performer. That’s the first thing Gypsy said to me: ‘That is the life of an acrobat.’

Pippin Profile 2 - Photo 4

John Moore: And how does that translate into the theatre experience?

Diane Paulus: I am always interested in embracing theatre for what I think it should be, which is the absolute, live experience that is witnessed by each audience member. It’s not something we can later replay on our telephones or computers. As an audience member, you are seeing it, and what you are seeing can only be experienced right then and there, and it will be different every night.

John Moore: How did you decide how you would go about replicating the Fosse choreography – and how much?

Diane Paulus: There is no one like Bob Fosse. I have always worshiped at the altar of Fosse for what he did as an artist, and for his unique vision. I knew if we were going to bring back Pippin, we had to bring back the Fosse. It’s just too connected. Chet Walker was part of that original Broadway production of Pippin. He had worked with Fosse for years, and so having Chet on the team was so important to me. When I first met Chet, he said to me, ‘Bob Fosse would never want to re-create something. He never wanted to repeat himself. He and Stephen Schwartz also told me that Fosse loved Fellini. And when you look at it, this fascination with Fellini and clowns is all over even the original choreography. It’s almost inside the DNA of the original production. But we had an opportunity with our production to take it further.

John Moore: When you approached Gypsy, she had never seen Pippin before. She said the first thing that became obvious to her was that the Leading Player was Bob Fosse, and Pippin was Stephen Schwartz. When I mentioned that to Stephen, he just kind of paused and said, ‘That’s exactly right.’ What do you think of the comparison?

Diane Paulus: I am such a huge fan of both of those artists. It was so interesting to work with Stephen because here it was, 40 years later, and he was no longer the young college kid who wrote the show. He’s now a mature artist looking back on his life. And I think now he had an appreciation for what Fosse saw in it when they made this in the ’70s. So I think Stephen really helped me understand what the brew was back in the ’70s between he and Fosse. Looking at it now for this revival as a mature artist, I think Stephen was able to identify more with Fosse. It was so edifying and inspiring for me to really understand the original production and everything that made that birth happen. A lot of people think of Pippin from having done it at their camp, or at their community theatre, or at their college. And so, for a lot of people, they know it as The Kumbaya Pippin. And this is not The Kumbaya Pippin. This story is deep, and it is profound, and it has really intense meaning. I think that was there in the original collaboration between Stephen and Bob Fosse. I remember that heat from when I was a kid, and I wanted to re-create that heat and take it even further.

John Moore: Obviously a big change with this production is that a woman is playing the Leading Player. Stephen felt no male actor could possibly follow in Ben Vereen’s footsteps.

Diane Paulus: Well, you know, in the script, it just says, “Leading Player.” It doesn’t say anything about race or gender. There is no other information, aside what is in the text. So I sent Stephen a note saying, ‘Tell me about this Leading Player. What do I have to know?’ Just give me some details.’ And he said back, ‘The Leading Player can be anyone. Male. Female African-American, white, whatever demographic or ethnicity you want.’ The only thing he said is that the Leading Player has to feel different from Pippin. The Leading Player has to represent everything Pippin has not experienced in life. So, with that … I agree with Stephen. The specter of Ben Vereen is huge, and for me that meant we had to have someone who could sing as well as Ben, who could dance as well as Ben, and who could act as well as Ben. So that was really the gauntlet that was thrown down. We had to find someone who is a true triple-threat. I knew Ben could do everything, and I knew we had to find someone who could deliver in all those departments. And, in our case — maybe also someone who is willing to get on a trapeze and be a little fearless with some of the circus stuff.

John Moore: How hard was that to find all in one performer?

Diane Paulus: We auditioned everyone. We auditioned men and women. Every possible ethnicity came through our door. We had no agenda about who we were going to cast. However, I have to confess that Patina Miller was secretly in my brain, because I had worked with her on Hair. And then she helped create this stamp on this role of a powerful woman and leader. She proved that a woman could tell this story in such an interesting way for a modern, 21st-century audience. So now, the female Leading Player is integral. We’re looking forward to what Sasha Allen does with the role now.

Pippin Profile 2 - Photo 5

John Moore: Speaking of Hair, I have to ask you about your Jeannie, who was played by Colorado’s sweetheart, Annaleigh Ashford.

Diane Paulus: Oh my gosh. She is such a joy, and, as everyone knows, so hysterically funny. There is not one word that can come out of that women’s mouth that doesn’t make you laugh. I loved working with her on Hair. She was so quirky and funny and such a pro. And she is so committed as an artist. I felt really lucky to have had that experience with her.

John Moore: It looks like Finding Neverland is going to be the next big thing. Can you give us a sneak peek into what kind of a theatrical experience we’re in for?

Diane Paulus: What I love about the show is that it’s the story of the power of the imagination through the life of J.M. Barrie. Speaking of expanding the boundaries, he took a leap of faith and created something that everyone felt was crazy back in 1904. I mean, this was a story with boys who could fly and fairies and mermaids and crocodiles. Everybody thought he was nuts. He created Peter Pan — something we all now think of as a brand of peanut butter. And if people have seen it, they say, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ve seen it a thousand times, and it’s the most mainstream, accessible musical you could point to.’ But it wasn’t in its creation.

John Moore: This must be fun for you, having daughters.

Diane Paulus. Yes. Because at the heart of it, this is about is seeing the world through the eyes of a child. I am making Finding Neverland for my two daughters. What does it means to have spirit of a child in your life?  What kind of worlds can we see through their eyes? I love the show. The heart of it is very strong.

John Moore: Before we go, I am curious what you think about the new ending forPippin. Without giving anything away, why do you think this new ending is the right ending?

Diane Paulus: Our ending now makes perfect sense. This show is about all the trials we have to go through in our lives, and everyone goes through them. And so when Pippin ends, you have this sense that it is all going to begin again. I tell you, when we were making this production, there were kids all over the place, because so many of us have children, and I let everybody watch rehearsal. It was like a circus of children. Every time we finished rehearsal, all of the kids would rush on to the stage and try to climb the poles and try to do all the acrobatic tricks. It was sort of primal. I looked at them one day and I thought, ‘That’s the story!’ Even though we know we are going to fall, a kid will always want to climb a tree. A kid will always want to try to climb a pole. It’s a part of human nature, and that to me is what we get in this new ending.

John Moore: And also looking at it from Pippin’s perspective. He has to make a decision. And I think Stephen was always a little uncomfortable that people might interpret the original ending of a man choosing to be a responsible husband and father as somehow settling. In this day and age, we really should be celebrating those men who choose fatherhood and family, should we not?

Diane Paulus: Every individual has to face certain decisions at some point in their lives. And you make your choice for a reason. And I think each choice is extraordinary, if you really get in touch with yourself. To me, that’s the story. Stop doing what people tell you to do. Identify what’s in your heart. That might mean running away with the circus. That might mean choosing a family, and to love someone, which means you can’t run away with the circus right now. It’s all about the choice. It’s all about the risk of the choice. It’s not about which choice you actually make. Can you hear your heart and follow your heart and the truth inside yourself? That is the journey of Pippin. That’s your journey. And that’s my journey, too.


John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

Note: “The Pippin Profiles” is a series of interviews by Arts Journalist John Moore with the “Pippin The Musical” cast and creative team leading up to the launch of the first national touring production in Denver on Sept. 6. Dallas Summer Musicals is re-posting these on the DSM Blog to countdown the Opening Night of PIPPIN at the Music Hall at Fair Park – July 7-19!


Pippin_MusicHallSiteHeader

PIPPIN is presented by Dallas Summer Musicals TOMORROW, July 7-19 at Music Hall at Fair Park. TICKETS ON SALE NOW! Just go to http://tinyurl.com/og2sxh7. For more details, click here.

Posted in 2015 DSM Season | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Countdown to PIPPIN with The ‘Pippin’ Profiles: Sasha Allen finds her voice in the raw art of live theatre

The ‘Pippin’ Profiles: Sasha Allen finds her voice in the raw art of live theatre

by John Moore | Sep 02, 2014

Pippin Profile 6 - Photo 1

Sasha Allen

It’s not like the prospect of performing in front of nearly 3,000 people in Denver to launch the national touring production of Pippin doesn’t make Sasha Allen a little nervous. But intimidated? Hardly.

“Try sitting there calmly when they are you counting you down from 5, 4, 3… and that, ‘Oh, by the way, 30 million people are watching,’ ” said Allen. “That’s scary.”

The Harlem-born Allen has sung backing vocals for Christina Aguilera, Alicia Keys, John Legend and Usher. She rose to fame in her own right last year as a finalist on the fourth season of NBC’s singing competition, The Voice(Photo left by Matthew Murphy.)

The pressure to perform on live TV, she said, “is out of control.” By comparison, taking to the stage as the Leading Player in Pippin feels positively intimate. Still, she gets something out of performing on a theatre stage that TV just can’t match.

“There is a serious transfer of energy when you are performing in front of live people,” said Allen, who in Pippin is taking on the iconic (and now feminized) role of the Leading Player, head of a troupe of circus performers who relate the story of a young prince’s search for meaning in his life.

“On TV, when your eyelash falls off, they yell, ‘Stop.’ Someone comes on and fixes your eyelash, and you do it again. There is something organic about being on stage and everybody with you is there to take care of each other. Because nobody is going to come running on and fix your lash if it falls off. We can’t yell, ‘Cut!’ It just doesn’t work like that.

“We are all sweating. Your shoes are stabbing you in your feet. Live theatre is a raw art, and I think you have to completely love it to want to do it.”

Allen loves it – stabby shoes and all. She made her Broadway debut in 2010 when Director Diane Paulus cast her to join another signature revival American revival, Hair, as Dionne.

What will make Allen a bit nervous is when you point out that she’s following in the footsteps of the great Ben Vereen.

I saw his performance on tape, and I was I was like, ‘Oh my God, he is just so electric,’ ” she said. It is intimidating. But I am thankful to be a female playing that role. It’s just so different. It has to be.”

Pippin Profile 6 - Photo 2

What follows are excerpts from our extensive conversation with Pippin’s leading Player: 

John Moore: How is rehearsal going today?

Sasha Allen: I have been sweating like a crazy person all day long. I smell like the gym. But it is going really, really good. For a second there, I thought I was going to jump off the cliff, because it’s a lot of hard work. But then it finally starts to click, and your body finally does what it is supposed to do.

John Moore: It seems like all of you just jumped off the cliff together on this one.

Sasha Allen: When you take on a project like this, you just know it’s going to be good in the end. That’s why you continue to do the work, but … man, it’s hard.

John Moore: Well, congratulations for the opportunity.

Sasha Allen: Thank you. I know this is a life-changing moment. I just know that if I continue on my path, then I will be labeled as something better than I was yesterday.

John Moore: It sounds as if you are on a Pippin-esque journey of your own.

Sasha Allen: I definitely am. I called my mom after I crashed and burned during one rehearsal. I was like, ‘Well, that didn’t go the way I wanted it to go. And she was like, ‘Well, now you know where you stand. Now, work it out. Moving on … ‘

John Moore: Gotta love moms.

Sasha Allen: Absolutely. I was like, ‘Right. Exactly. Now — get back to rehearsal.’

John Moore: When was the first time you ever saw Pippin?

Sasha Allen: I had seen Ben Vereen on tape. Just as a fan. I was like, ‘Oh my God, he is so amazing. Let’s rewind and watch that again.’ But when I knew I was going to be auditioning (to join the Broadway cast), I went to see it (with Patina Miller playing the role of the Leading Player). It’s a strange feeling. You’re like, ‘I can conquer this’ … but it becomes intimidating at the same time. I was thinking, ‘Damn. She never leaves the stage. She never takes a break.’ I do know that when that show was over, I stood on my feet … and I meant it.  There was a real feeling of, ‘Get your butt up and clap for this production, because they just rocked the house.’

John Moore: So what is your take on the role of the Leading Player now?

Sasha Allen: At first, I didn’t like her so much. I really didn’t. I was thinking, ‘Well, then, so how do I get into a character that I don’t like?’ That’s why (Director Diane Paulus) is so great. When she made us do character study, it was so necessary, because hating my character doesn’t work for me playing her. I had to realize that everybody has a story. Everybody has something that has happened to them. I really do believe that everyone is born in innocence. I have children, so I know what innocence really looks like. So I thought, something must have happened to her. That’s why she is this strict, crazy, controlling, person. If you can understand where people come from, then you don’t take it personally. As an actor, you can get joy out of a person’s struggle. It’s so real. You will find controlling people everywhere in the world, and I just wonder why. Me creating a pre-story for this character really helped me to understand where she’s coming from.

John Moore: I have talked to several people who have made the connection that (Composer) Stephen Schwartz is pretty much Pippin, and the Leading Player is really (original Director) Bob Fosse. Have you tried to tap into the Fosse context in any way?

Sasha Allen: I don’t think of them as being the actual people. I know part of their inspiration for the Leading Player came from Charles Manson, and a lot of stuff in the script refers back to that. So I really watched Charles Manson. I think he’s scary, but you know what? I didn’t hate him. He made a lot of sense in a weird, crazy kind of way. I would never want to be in his presence because he would probably do a mind trip on me, but … no, I never thought about Fosse being my character.

Pippin Profile 6 - Photo 3

John Moore: Love her or not, your character is such a necessary part of Pippin’s journey. It might be tough love, but it seems to me that you’re also his teacher.

Sasha Allen: There are different moments throughout the show where I feel like his teacher. Then I feel like his mother. Then his friend. And then, in the end … I feel like his enemy. When Pippin doesn’t do what I want him to do, she has a full-on meltdown. She will do whatever it takes to get him to feel what she is feeling. ‘Oh, so you don’t feel with me now? I am going to make you feel it this way.’ A lot of people can relate to Pippin because we’ve all felt naive and innocent — and now, someone is trying to take control of your life. But my character is also very human. Her antics are on the more dramatic side, but we can all relate to wanting to be in control of our lives.

John Moore: You mentioned your appreciation for Ben Vereen.

Sasha Allen: Oh, I love him.

John Moore: In talking with Stephen about turning the Leading Player into a part for a female actor, he said no male actor would ever be able to live up to Ben Vereen’s performance … or at least people’s picture in their minds of Ben Vereen’s performance. And Stephen didn’t want to put that responsibility on any man. So they thought making the Leading Player a woman would be an opportunity to present the story in an entirely different way. But still, you are following in Ben Vereen’s footsteps. How does it feel to step into that lineage?

Sasha Allen: I will say it is intimidating. But, as a woman, I am able to do make different vocal and creative choices. Stephen and Diane have really allowed me to do my own thing, and allow my signature to be put on it. And I am not sure if I could have done that if I were a male. And even if I weren’t a differently styled singer, I think it would feel disrespectful to change this great thing that has been made. As a female, I do feel lucky to be able to say, ‘Well, yes, Ben did that. And we all love him for that. But now … look at me. I have a sexy outfit on!’

John Moore: Have you ever met Ben Vereen?

Sasha Allen: I have. I was doing Hair, and he did Hair as well. Afterward, he invited some of the cast to his hotel room. We had a whole in-depth conversation about Hair, and his experience, and the times, and the racism. We got so deep. He was really so special. But I think you have to be to be that much of a genius. He is a phenomenal “thing.” I mean, it doesn’t even feel human.

John Moore: So I want to ask you about working with all of these awesome women. When we look back on the original Pippin, it’s Stephen Schwartz and it’s Bob Fosse and it’s Roger Hirson and it’s Ben Vereen. It’s such a “guy’s show” in many ways. And now you have Diane bringing it back to life on Broadway, and she has brought in Gypsy Snider for the circus elements. They are both mothers. You are a mother. Pippin is still a guy’s story, but there is a whole lot of girl power going on in this new production.

Sasha Allen: Oh, I feel it. Definitely. And I can tell you, I don’t know if a man yelling at me the way Diane yells at me would work. Do you know what I mean? There is just a different energy with women. When Diane is getting revved up, she is literally transferring her energy to me. She is not holding back at all. When she tells me to do something, you just do it. And if she pisses me off, that just makes it even better. It is a literal transfer of women power. She is truly inspiring.

John Moore: That applies to new ending, too, doesn’t it? We’re not telling people exactly how it has changed. But there is something that was troubling, I think, about the way the original Pippin ended. After his period of adventure, there was this unintentional sense that Pippin was somehow settling for a family life. As if that’s a bad thing. But it’s an interesting thing when you put strong women in charge of the storytelling. Because I think they have brought some clarity to in terms of what we should consider to be extraordinary.

Sasha Allen: I do not think that a young man choosing to be a husband and a father should ever be considered settling.  We all have choices to make, and having a family is not a bad choice. It’s just not. I have one. I think anybody can do whatever they want with their lives and make it exceptional. If you are going to be a father, then be an exceptional father. I think we all can be extraordinary, however we choose to be.

Pippin Profile 6 - Photo 4

John Moore: So … do you mind if we talk about The Voice?

Sasha Allen: Oh yeah, yeah … come on!

John Moore: OK, so I have been asked to ask: When you had to choose between Shakira and Usher to be your mentor, you picked Shakira. But you were once a backing vocalist for Usher. How did you come to that decision?

Sasha Allen: It was excruciating. It looks pretty easy when you are watching the show on TV. But when you are up there, you are sweating bullets. I was shaking inside. They put this weird music on, and the lights changed. It really is intimidating. Usher is an amazing singer. He’s an amazing performer. But he is a technical dancer. You know, here we are talking about the strong women in Pippin: I felt like what I needed most was a strong woman to tell me what I needed to do as a woman to get this done. And that went down to everything from, ‘How do I wear my hair?’ to, ‘How do I wear my make-up?’ to, ‘What shade of lipstick?’ to, ‘What outfit should I wear?’ I know that sounds really off-topic, but these things are crucial in how people look at you. I was just talking to one of our costume designers, and she said, ‘What I love is looking at how people dress. There is always a whole story behind it.’ Well, there is a whole story behind what I wore on The Voice.

John Moore: Did you learn any dance moves from Shakira?

Sasha Allen: You know, we really didn’t really work on dance moves. I mean, I will never be able to dance like her. She’s born and bred to dance. It was really the small details that I got from her. Shakira would tell me, ‘Smile here, and then seduce the camera there.’ She gave me a valuable lesson on brightening up a room, or seducing a room. If I am going to crawl, then it better be a good crawl. If you are going to do it, then make it sexual, or else don’t even do it. Those are women tricks.

John Moore: So The Voice wasn’t that long ago, and now you are only a couple of days away from opening the tour of Pippin. Can you put your life into any kind of perspective right now?

Sasha Allen: It’s a blessing. It really is. I didn’t realize how much I was going to learn from The Voice, to tell you the truth. Because you look at the show and you’re like, ‘Well, yes, it’s corny and it’s cheesy. But I learned so much. I learned a lot about myself. I learned how hard I am willing to work. And I really learned how to practice.

Note: “The Pippin Profiles” is a series of interviews by Arts Journalist John Moore with the “Pippin The Musical” cast and creative team leading up to the launch of the first national touring production in Denver on Sept. 6. Dallas Summer Musicals is re-posting these on the DSM Blog to countdown the Opening Night of PIPPIN at the Music Hall at Fair Park – July 7-19!


Pippin_MusicHallSiteHeader

PIPPIN is presented by Dallas Summer Musicals July 7-19 at Music Hall at Fair Park. TICKETS ON SALE NOW! Just go to http://tinyurl.com/og2sxh7. For more details, click here.

Want a chance to win tickets to opening night? Download our mobile app and take our quick trivia quiz! To download our app, Apple users click here and Android users click here!

Posted in 2015 DSM Season | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Countdown to PIPPIN with The ‘Pippin’ Profiles: Bob Fosse protégé Chet Walker

The ‘Pippin’ Profiles: Bob Fosse protégé Chet Walker

by John Moore | Aug 14, 2014

Choreographer Chet Walker believes the legendary Bob Fosse "had a style, not a technique."

Choreographer Chet Walker believes the legendary Bob Fosse “had a style, not a technique.”

Bob Fosse has been gone for 27 years, but protégé Chet Walker still refers to the icon of modern dance exclusively as “Mr. Fosse.”

“He deserves that respect,” Walker said.

When Walker met Fosse in 1972, “I was the size of a peanut,” he said. Walker was 16 and auditioning to join the cast of Fosse’s TV concert, Liza with a Z. Two years later, he was added to the company of Pippin, playing a peasant. That led to several impressionable years “behind the table” assisting and observing Fosse, who died in 1987. Walker then conceived the Broadway tribute Fosse, which won the 1989 Tony Award for best musical.

Walker doesn’t know the driven, oversexed hothead many people remember as the semi-fictional character Roy Scheider played in the Fosse-directed film, All that Jazz. The mentor Walker knew never raised his voice or got angry. He says the primary lessons Fosse taught him were “humanity, how to be with people and how to listen.”

Wait … not technique?

‘That’s the thing: Mr. Fosse didn’t have a technique,” said Walker. “What he did have was incredible style.”

Pippin Profile 5 - Photo 2

When Pippin Director Diane Paulus knew she wanted to bring Pippin back to life and set it in the athletic and sensuous world of circus acrobatics and gymnastics — “we knew we had to bring back the Fosse, too,” she said. “It’s just too connected.”

Paulus also knew there was only one man for the job of “bringing back the Fosse”: Choreographer Chet Walker.

“He had worked with Fosse for years, and so having Chet was so important to me,” she said.

When Paulus told Walker she wanted to transplant Stephen Schwartz and Roger O. Hinson’s quintessential musical search for meaning inside the world of the circus, she got all the confirmation she needed that she was on the right path from Walker. “He told us about Fosse’s fascination with all things (Federico) Fellini and clowns,” Paulus said. “And really that’s all over even the original choreography. It’s almost inside the DNA of the original production.”

When they got into the rehearsal room, Pippin Circus Creator Gypsy Snyder says Walker “was the holder of all things Fosse.” But the goal was not – except in certain circumstances, to merely re-create Fosse’s signature choreography. It was to tell the story “in the style of Mr. Fosse,” Walker said.

In a wide-ranging interview, Walker talks about being “the keeper of the Fosse flame,” and what exactly “the style of Mr. Fosse” really means. And take our word for it – it ain’t “jazz hands” ….

John Moore: What goes through your mind when you’re told, ‘You are the only person for this job’?

Chet Walker: It’s interesting because I didn’t know exactly what ‘my job’ was going to be in the beginning, or how it was all going to work. You had what Gypsy was doing with the circus, and then you had Diane’s vision, and then there was this question of how to incorporate Mr. Fosse’s work — or the work that would be in his style. We knew we should not just try to repeat Mr. Fosse’s work, because the concept of this show is very different. So … it was daunting, I can tell you that. To be honest, I didn’t really know how to do it at first. But Diane is such an amazing director, and she was very clear as to the possibilities. So we literally looked at all the possibilities of how the circus and dance and acting could all work together, and I think we ultimately got it to be very seamless. But I don’t think we knew exactly how to do that in the beginning.

John Moore: That had to be the fun of it though, wasn’t it — the not knowing?

Chet Walker: Oh, yes. But you have to understand that back in the 1970s, we didn’t question anything. We did what Mr. Fosse said to do. He was a Svengali in a very positive way. You see, I wasn’t in the original Pippin cast. I came in when everyone went to Chicago, about two years after it first opened. Back then, our entire version of Pippin was based on Mr. Fosse’s vision of that show. When you look at this new version of the show, very little has changed in the script, and nothing at all has changed in the music. And yet nevertheless … it’s a whole different show. It’s amazing that after 40 years the same story can be told in a whole different arena. It’s not really a revival, per se … I believe it is truly a new show.

John Moore: What were your first impressions of meeting Mr. Fosse?

Chet Walker: Oh my gosh, I was a mere child. I went to the audition for Liza with a Z. I had my tights on, my white little socks, my ballet shoes and a black and green and white striped shirt. I was the size of a peanut. It was a Saturday, and it was raining, and I really don’t know why I even showed up. But I did. I was this embryonic little person surrounded by all of these men. But the way that Mr. Fosse responded to me was not like he responded to anybody else. He allowed me to stay. He was kind, and so generous. The whole time, my eyes were just … open. I had not been around a male figure like that before. A lot of my dancing teachers were female, so I had never really been around a dominating male figure who was that charismatic. I mean, let’s face it: The guy was charismatic.

Pippin Profile 5 - Photo 3

John Moore: What did you learn from him?

Chet Walker: His teaching wasn’t like teaching. It was like observation. It was like being in a lab and being able to observe everything from many different points of view. A lot of the people who were around him were muses, or people he was creating things for. I was really a different person in the room. Yes, I was a performer for him, but my relationship was always behind the table, talking about why, when, how this and that. And that made my relationship with him so different. So when people talk about him the way they do, I don’t recognize this person that they talk about.

John Moore: After spending so many years over his shoulder, what was it like when it was your time to step forward?

Chet Walker: Well, his passing made that happen. When he passed away while we were doing Sweet Charity, I figured I would just be a dancer for as long as I could dance, and that would be it. On his passing, yes, mine was one of the shoulders it was put on. I would go out and do all kinds of things that were related to Mr. Fosse. But I had created what we now know as (the musical) Fosse long before it was called Fosse.  It started with a TV show that I brought to him back in 1985. And it took me 15 years to finally get it to where it was a Broadway show. That was a huge responsibility — but it was one that I wanted to have. When you want to have a responsibility, it’s not such a hardship. And boy, you think you know someone … until you start to really do the work. I remember on my first meeting with him about the show, I brought all my research to him. And he looks at it and says, ‘Well you know, this is not everything I’ve done.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh no?’ He would always have that smirk because he would tell you things and you would say, ‘Oh my God, you’re kidding me — You did that, too?’ It was interesting. The whole process of knowing this man and knowing his work and watching how he worked in the business … you can’t go to school for that.

John Moore: I mean this next question in all sincerity, although it’s going to sound provocative. But I think you have made quite a legacy for yourself when a man from the dance world, which is not widely known by the general public, is identifiable by the mere saying of the words … ‘Jazz hands.’ Everyone knows you are talking about Bob Fosse.

Chet Walker: Well I never equate that to Mr. Fosse, because ‘jazz hands’ is a position. And in Mr. Fosse’s world, those hands in a dance would have ended up being some sort of imagery. It’s funny because people go, ‘I’m a Fosse dancer,’ and I always go, ‘Well, that’s interesting, because if you didn’t actually work with Mr. Fosse, then you are not a Fosse dancer. It’s sort of like, ‘You’re not a Balanchine dancer unless you have worked with Mr. Balanchine. Now, you may have learned from other Balanchine dancers, which is just phenomenal, but … it’s not the same thing. Mr. Fosse would never have called what he did ‘Fosse.’ Do you know what I mean? He would never have said, ‘OK everyone, today, we are going to do Fosse.’ What he did was all imagery. It’s weird because people like to say, ‘Oh, I am going to teach the technique of Bob Fosse,’ and I say, ‘But he didn’t have a technique.’ He had an incredible style. I don’t believe that there is any one person other than Jack Cole who had a specific, ‘Wow pow, oh my gosh’ moment like Mr. Fosse. Now, Jack Cole had both a technique, and a style. But Mr. Fosse didn’t have a technique per se. He had a style that was amazing.

Pippin Profile 5 - Photo 4

John Moore: And how would you describe that style?

Chet Walker: Well, it’s unlike anyone else’s. Other choreographers use many kinds of styles. And many of those styles were unbelievable. But Mr. Fosse’s? When you see that walk, or you see those arms —  it is just kind of breathtaking. It really is, because it’s not something that you see all the time. There is such acting in it. There is such imagery in it. It’s not just dance movement. There is drama, there is humor, there is entertainment. If you look at any musical that Mr. Fosse ever had his hand in, there was always something that I call ‘the underbelly.’ There’s always an underneath side of what’s going on. He totally could entertain you, but if you look beyond the entertainment aspect of it, he’s probably saying something else. And in Pippin — most definitely. When Mr. Schwartz wrote this with Roger O. Hinson in the 1970s, there were a lot of things going on that pertained to the piece — Charles Manson, the war, what our government was doing. Things were not always as they appeared. Mr. Fosse was very much an advocate of making it show business, and making it so that you can see the show of it. So we have a whole war section in Pippin. And then there’s this whole business of The Manson Trio. That’s an iconic piece of vaudeville as we are tap-dancing through the war. And if you relate that back to Vietnam or any other war that this country has ever gone through, there’s a lot that seems to be a cover-up. There is a lot of not wanting to actually see it for what it is. There is a lot of show business to it. Mr. Fosse was such a patriotic man.

Anthony Wayne, Patina Miller and Andrew Fitch perform Bob Fosse's iconic "The Manson Trio" in the 2013 Broadway revival of "Pippin." Photo by Joan Marcus.

Anthony Wayne, Patina Miller and Andrew Fitch perform Bob Fosse’s iconic “The Manson Trio” in the 2013 Broadway revival of “Pippin.” Photo by Joan Marcus.

John Moore: You have said Mr. Fosse called the signature Manson Trio dance that because the Leading Player is a bit of a charismatic cult leader, as was Charles Manson. That he liked the juxtaposition of song-and-dance with people being killed. So will we see The Manson Trio in the new Pippin?

Chet Walker: Absolutely. The Manson Trio is all his. That’s Mr. Fosse’s. That’s not mine. There would be no way I could have ever created anything more perfect than that.

John Moore: When you see any Fosse show today, you still know instantly who originally choreographed it. Can you talk about how Mr. Fosse lives on in what you’ve done?

Chet Walker: Well, thanks that you think that. I think when you look at what we have created in Pippin, you will see a sense of showmanship to the circus, and to the theatrical. Hopefully I have paid homage to him well, and that you probably have never seen anything quite like it before.

John Moore: We’ve all seen wonderful Broadway shows that play well in front of 1,000 people, and then they go out on the road and get swallowed up in these large, 3,000-seat roadhouses. But here the dancing and the circus element and the aerials actually allow Pippin the unique opportunity to actually grow into the space and take advantage of the larger canvas.

Chet Walker: This show can be played to a huge audience or to a small audience, and I think it works for both. There’s going to be an intimacy to it no matter what, because the story is intimate. But the story is also huge. It is small, but it’s also so impactful. And then when you see all that we have happening on that stage, I think that’s what makes it so powerful.”

John Moore: Considering the gymnastics and high-flying and the muscular nature of this new Pippin, do you think if these performance techniques were available in the 1970s, Mr. Fosse would have done this same thing himself?

Chet Walker: Oh, I think so. He absolutely loved clowns, and he collected all kinds of things about clowns. You never can really know what people would have thought, but if someone had come up with the idea of doing this in 1972, I think Mr. Fosse would have jumped on the bandwagon. He would have gone for the challenge and wanted to see what that was all about. Totally.

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

Note: “The Pippin Profiles” is a series of interviews by Arts Journalist John Moore with the “Pippin The Musical” cast and creative team leading up to the launch of the first national touring production in Denver on Sept. 6. Dallas Summer Musicals is re-posting these on the DSM Blog to countdown the Opening Night of PIPPIN at the Music Hall at Fair Park – July 7-19!


Pippin_MusicHallSiteHeader

PIPPIN is presented by Dallas Summer Musicals July 7-19 at Music Hall at Fair Park. TICKETS ON SALE NOW! Just go to http://tinyurl.com/og2sxh7. For more details, click here.

Want a chance to win tickets to opening night? Download our mobile app and take our quick trivia quiz! To download our app, Apple users click here and Android users click here!

Posted in 2015 DSM Season | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Countdown to PIPPIN with The ‘Pippin’ Profiles: John Rubinstein, the first prince, is now his father

The ‘Pippin’ Profiles: John Rubinstein, the first prince, is now his father

by John Moore | Aug 29, 2014

John Rubinstein originated the title role in 'Pippin' on Broadway in 1972. When the new national touring production launches in Denver 42 years later, he will be playing Pippin's father, King Charlemagne. Photo by John Moore.

John Rubinstein originated the title role in ‘Pippin’ on Broadway in 1972. When the new national touring production launches in Denver 42 years later, he will be playing Pippin’s father, King Charlemagne. Photo by John Moore.

 

Stephen Schwartz talks about it like a giddy teenager.

“Isn’t that the best? I mean, isn’t that the best … ever?” he asks rhetorically.

The legendary composer is talking about one of those wonderfully quirky little creative coincidences that come around once in, oh, about every 40 years.

John Rubinstein was the first actor ever to play Pippin in the iconic 1972 Bob Fosse-Stephen Schwartz musical of the same name. Remarkably, he is now performing in the new national touring production of Broadway’s 2013 Tony Award-winning revival that launches in Denver on Sept. 6.

Rubinstein is no longer a kid acting out the young prince’s search for meaning in his existence. Now, he is a seasoned pro playing Pippin’s disapproving father, King Charlemagne.

Isn’t that the best … ever?

“We would not have done it if we didn’t feel that John was the best choice for the role,” Schwartz said. “But the idea of it was irresistible.”

Gypsy Snyder, one of the key creators of this new version of Pippin, said watching Rubinstein audition for the role of Charlemagne was like … maple syrup. “It was just so sweet and so right and so juicy to see,” she said.  “It was incredible. It was mind-blowing.”

The new Pippin is significantly changed from the 1972 original also starring Ben Vereen, Jill Clayburgh and Irene Ryan. The story is now a yarn being told by a troupe of circus performers who impart it while performing death-defying acts of aerial and acrobatic skill. Vereen’s dynamic, enigmatic Leading Player is now being played by a woman. And the ending of the show has been changed to better illuminate universal truths about any young person’s quest to live an extraordinary life.

“The feeling of the show is bigger and brighter and faster,” Rubinstein said.

He compares revisiting Pippin at this stage of his life to revisiting a childhood home.

“It’s like you lived in a house,” he said. “You were there when they built it; you were the first family to live in it, and you grew up in it. Then you go back to that house 40 years later, and there it is: Same house. Same place. Same birds singing in the trees outside. But it’s all different now. They’ve redecorated the living room, and they have added a more modern feel to the old dining room where you all spent so many years eating together. Outside the window, they have added a swimming pool where there used to be a flower garden. You don’t feel like you are in the same place. But you are. That’s sort of what it is like. On the hot days, we used to have to turn on the hose and pour it over our heads. Now we can jump into this beautiful new swimming pool. But you sort of miss the old flower garden, too.”

Rubinstein has enjoyed a steady career in TV and film, but the son of internationally acclaimed pianist Arthur Rubinstein is also an accomplished composer himself. He scored the music for the iconic 1970s Robert Redford films Jeremiah Johnson and The Candidate.

“One of the great thrills of my life, still to this day, was watching the Oscars when The Candidate won for best screenplay,” Rubinstein said. “I was watching on the TV, and when Jeremy Larner walked up to the podium, they played my theme. I almost fainted.”

Rubinstein won the 1980 Tony Award for his portrayal of James Leeds in Children of a Lesser God. Other Broadway appearances include Hurlyburly, M. Butterfly and Fools. His films include 21 GramsSomeone to Watch Over Me and The Boys from Brazil. His 150-plus TV credits include Family (as Jeff Maitland),Crazy Like a FoxStar Trek: Enterprise, and the series finale of Friends. (He played the doctor who delivered Monica and Chandler’s babies.)

But Pippin, Rubinstein said, will always be one of the seminal moments of his career.

“Doing your first Broadway show, at a time when I was having my first two kids? It was absolutely a gigantic moment in my life … one that lasted 2 1/2 years.”

Pippin Profile 4 - Photo 2


Please enjoy the following excerpts of our expansive conversation with John Rubinstein just before the cast shifted its base to Denver, where the national touring production of “Pippin” opens in the Buell Theatre on Sept. 6. Rubinstein had been temporarily added to the Broadway cast as part of his preparation for the tour:

Pippin Profile 4 - Photo 3John Moore: So you have been rehearsing all day with the touring cast, and then performing at night with the Broadway cast. How weird is that?

John Rubinstein: Well, it’s a little weird. I have been doing the show for nine weeks now, so I have a rhythm going with the Broadway cast. And we’re all developing our rhythm together as a touring cast. It’s not as hard as it seems. It’s just long hours. It will be lovely to get out there to Denver and just focus on that.

John Moore: OK, but let’s be honest: You have been doing this show for a lot more than nine weeks.

John Rubinstein: Ha-ha, yes … but with a very substantial break in between.

John Moore: Yes, like 40 years.

John Rubinstein: Exactly.

John Moore: Why was this something you wanted to do at this point in your life?

John Rubinstein: Well, it doesn’t take a lot of convincing for me. I have a lot of children. I had my first child a week after I learned that I got the part in the first Pippin. My second child was born during Pippin on a matinee day. And I’ve had three other kids since. I now have two kids in college. And my youngest is now 8. So pretty much anybody who wants me, gets me (laughs).

John Moore: When you heard Pippin was coming back, take me through the audition process. Were you thinking, ‘What a perfect way to complete a circle of life?’ Or did someone from Pippin call you and say, ‘You have to come in for this’?

John Rubinstein: It was a little bit of both. I live in Los Angeles, but I happened to be in New York to speak at my 50th high-school reunion. I delivered this big speech on that Friday. Rather late that day, my agent called and said, ‘Hey, John, is there any way you can get yourself to New York?’ And I said, ‘Hey … I’m here!’ And then he said, ‘On Monday morning, they want you to audition to take over for Terrence Mann as King Charlemagne in Pippin.’ And I thought that would be really fun. I hadn’t been on Broadway since I did Ragtime in 1999. I had been looking for a reason to spend some time in New York again, so I said, sure. On Monday morning, I went in and auditioned, and there was good old Stephen (Schwartz) and (Book Writer) Roger Hirson and (Choreographer) Chet Walker and a bunch of old friends. I met Gypsy Snider for the first time and (Director) Diane Paulus and some of the other people involved. So I auditioned for them. Then they made me wait around for an hour or so while they got (Producer) Barry Weissler to come down. Then they made me do it all over again, and I flew happily back to California. The next week or so, they called and offered me the tour. And I thought, ‘Gee, I haven’t toured since 1968.’ That was for On a Clear Day, You Can See Forever, a bus-and-truck tour with Howard Keel and John Raitt. Good people. But it was grueling. I remember we went through Denver on that tour.

John Moore: May I read you a quote from Stephen Schwartz about your audition?

John Rubinstein: Sure.

John Moore: He told me:

‘There was this one moment when John read the chapel scene. There is a line where Pippin says, ‘Time has passed you by, father,’ and Charlemagne’s line back is, ‘And YOUR time has come, my son?’  I mean, hearing that from John? I can’t even talk about it. It was just so emotional to hear John Rubinstein say that line. I know it doesn’t have the same resonance for people who are just seeing the show for the first time, but for Roger Hirson and me? That was a pretty emotional moment.’

John Rubinstein: Oh, that’s so moving. Those are very well-written scenes by Roger Hirson. Very actable. To me, the chapel scene is the best actor scene in the play. Now, keep in mind: I was not reading opposite the actor who is now playing Pippin. I was reading with a young lady from the audition team. But nonetheless, yes, to be looking at Pippin and saying that? I felt that resonance, too. When I said that line in the audition — ‘And YOUR time has come, my son?’ with that heavy sarcasm and that feeling of the inevitability of the passage of the baton, yeah, it was a thrill. When I do that scene in the show every night now, I get the chills just kneeling down and talking to Pippin about it.

John Moore: You can’t take a thing from the great Terrence Mann. But for audiences who hear you say that line, it’s just got to be different, given that you were the first Pippin.

John Rubinstein: Well, for audiences who are old enough to have either seen the original production or listened to the original cast album, maybe. I would say that only about 3 percent of the audience has any inkling about that. I’m just the old guy in the beard.

John Moore: Well, we’re going to singlehandedly make it … 6 percent then.

John Rubinstein: OK, then.

Pippin Profile 4 - Photo 4

John Moore: We can’t tell people specifically how the ending has changed in this new version of the show, but I think having the original Pippin performing as the new Charlemagne just makes the new ending that much more perfect.

John Rubinstein: Yes, that’s true. Those little magic similarities are beautiful. And they are there for the finding in this show …  if you find them.

John Moore: How different has it been for you as a creative team putting together this new Pippin together without Bob Fosse in the room?

John Rubinstein:  Well, there is a lot of Bob Fosse in the room. No doubt about it. The show was certainly created by Bob and Stephen and Roger, but when you originate a show, whether you are one of the dancers or playing the title role, as I was, you are all creating it together as a team. That may sound ostentatious, but it is not entirely false to say that we all made that show. Bob Fosse was clearly the driving force, and the vision, and the boss. There’s no way, not even 42 years later, that I don’t carry a lot of the inner workings, and the subtext, and the background with me still. They are just there. When I hear the music, I feel them. When I say the words, I am living still with Bob Fosse in the rehearsal studio.

John Moore: In what ways does it feel different to you then?

John Rubinstein: This is a completely new re-imagining of the entire staging. When we first did it, there was plenty of entertainment value in it, for sure — but it was a darker show. What made it spectacular were the dancing and the dancers — every one of them hand-picked by Bob Fosse. And certainly Ben Vereen’s performance as the Leading Player. Not to minimize the work of anyone else, but what really made that staging was the difficult choreography and how amazingly it was executed and interpreted by that particular group of dancers.

Do you still cross paths with Ben Vereen?

John Moore: John Rubinstein: Oh, sure. We’re brothers. He has visited me a bunch of times while I have been doing the show in New York. We’ve eaten together. We’ve cried and laughed together. We love each other.

John Moore: I am curious how he feels about a woman now playing the Leading Player.

John Rubinstein: We haven’t talked about that particular detail. We have just said to each other: ‘This is a different show. It’s not our Pippin revamped and re-mounted. It’s Pippin re-conceived and re-presented. It’s a different show. And there are some poignancies about that, for sure.

John Moore: OK, so when you are sitting in rehearsal, how do resist the urge to tap the new Pippin on the shoulder and say, ‘Let me tell you how it’s done, kid.’

John Rubinstein: No, never, never. I would never dream of doing it. It would be contrary to all etiquette. Aside from that, I don’t need to. These guys are way better playing this part than I ever was.

John Moore: I would think that from the young actor’s vantage point, you would be an incredible resource in the room.

John Rubinstein: He doesn’t need to ask me anything. He really doesn’t, and therefore … he doesn’t. He’s great. He’s amazing. He’s a wonderful actor. He’s full of sensitivity. And he sings like an angel.

John Moore: But wouldn’t that be a little like, say, if you did Jesus Christ Superstar in 1970, and now, 40 years later, Ben Vereen is back playing … Pontius Pilate? There’s a new kid playing Judas and Ben Vereen is right there in the room. I don’t know. I might have to ask him about the hanging scene.

John Rubinstein: You know what? I had that very experience. I’m talking to you by phone from the Union Square Theatre, where we are rehearsing for this tour. And it is in this very same theatre that, back in 1987, I played Guildenstern in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. That is a very difficult, challenging, wonderful masterpiece written by Tom Stoppard in 1966. And the third character in the play is, get this … the Leading Player. That’s no coincidence. Certainly they (Stoppard and Schwartz) got that from Hamlet. The Leading Player brings the acting troupe. And I believe that when Stephen first wrote Pippin, the Leading Player was not supposed be a song and dance person — man or woman. It was supposed to be an old fuddy-duddy, Shakespearean actor, just like he is in Hamlet. The head of a troupe of players. An older guy with a huge repertoire and a big, booming voice. I think it was the combination of Bob Fosse and Stephen and Roger working together that changed that concept, and the Leading Player became … Ben Vereen.

John Moore: Awesome. But back to 1987.

John Rubinstein: I am playing Guildenstern and Stephen Lang is playing Rosencrantz. In the room with us, playing the Leading Player, was the great British actor John Wood, who had originated the role of Guildenstern on Broadway 20 years earlier — and he won a Tony Award for it. Now he is 20 years older and playing the Leading Player in our show, and he is watching me struggle to put Guildenstern together, day after day in rehearsal. So I definitely lived that experience, and it was very daunting. I was like, ‘How do I do this?’ And there is John Wood, standing there watching me do it. But he never said a single word to me — and I never asked him, because that’s just not what’s done.

Pippin Profile 4 - Photo 5

John Moore: Stephen Schwartz and I talked about the 1972 production being a real reflection of its times. So I am curious what the original Pippin thinks about why it is still relevant for a teenage boy or girl to experience the message of this show now.

John Rubinstein: It’s a very universal tale. It’s an everyman’s story. It’s got elements of Huck Finn and Candide. The framework is this callow youth who is born into privilege and he has all these choices. He’s slightly narcissistic and slightly arrogant. He’s easily displeased and even spoiled, you could argue. But then he goes on this journey of discovery and self-discovery. And what he discovers is humility and being peaceful and feeling satisfied with a life that is relatively commonplace and relatively mundane. That’s a very moving story, because we all go through this as we are growing up. When we are children, we all want to be a policeman or a fireman; an astronaut or a movie star. We want to be a great athlete or a rich tycoon. We want to be glorious and amazing and accomplished, And then when we hit a certain age, if we are lucky, we realize that we are really happy to have a woman who loves us … and a child who doesn’t hate us …  and a dog who is happy to see us when we come home. And maybe that’s our greatest accomplishment.

John Moore: Bigger than all of those other things.

John Rubinstein: In this country, we are taught from birth that money is the only thing that matters. When they say the United States is about democracy and freedom, they really mean it’s about money. Your worth as a person is only really measured by the amount of money you make, or that you have. It doesn’t matter if you are the Koch brothers, and you never did a lick of work in your life, and you inherited everything from your father. You are still considered a driving force in this country. Because you have money. You are listened to, and you are respected. Now if you are a great human being and you have done amazing things but you don’t have a big bank account? Not so much. Pippin is a story that says your biggest accomplishment is how you find happiness in the little things. In the commonplace. In what we all have within our reach.

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

Note: “The Pippin Profiles” is a series of interviews by Arts Journalist John Moore with the “Pippin The Musical” cast and creative team leading up to the launch of the first national touring production in Denver on Sept. 6. Dallas Summer Musicals is re-posting these on the DSM Blog to countdown the Opening Night of PIPPIN at the Music Hall at Fair Park – July 7-19!


Pippin_MusicHallSiteHeader

PIPPIN is presented by Dallas Summer Musicals July 7-19 at Music Hall at Fair Park. TICKETS ON SALE NOW! Just go to http://tinyurl.com/og2sxh7. For more details, click here.

Want a chance to win tickets to opening night? Download our mobile app and take our quick trivia quiz! To download our app, Apple users click here and Android users click here!

Posted in 2015 DSM Season | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Countdown to PIPPIN with The ‘Pippin’ Profiles: Circus Creator Gypsy Snider

The ‘Pippin’ Profiles: Circus Creator Gypsy Snider

by John Moore | Aug 09, 2014

To lifetime circus performer Gypsy Snider, "circus is like eating and sleeping and family." Photo courtesy Gypsy Snider.

To lifetime circus performer Gypsy Snider, “circus is like eating and sleeping and family.” Photo courtesy Gypsy Snider.

 

In Pippin the Musical, a family of circus performers defies death to tell their story with every flip, tumble and mid-air spin.

The same is true of those actors performing in Pippin the Musical.

And the same has been true of Pippin Circus Creator Gypsy Snider since she began her career as a circus performer at the tender age of 4.

With all respect to Stephen Schwartz, composer of Wicked and Pippin, Snider was defying gravity long before Elphaba was a green twinkle in his orchestral eye.

Pippin Profile 3 - Photo 2

Snider’s parents are the founders of San Francisco’s pioneering Pickle Family Circus, an acclaimed alternative circus often cited as a primary influence on the creation of Cirque du Soleil. Snider is the co-founder of Montreal’s 7 Fingers (Les 7 doigts de la main), a pioneering form of live entertainment that has twice brought Traces to Denver. That innovative show used astonishing displays of athletic skill to tell the real-life stories of seven street teens.

Snider embraces circus as its own narrative storytelling form. Her brand of physical theatre requires strength, agility and grace.

Her upbringing was like no other. She grew up around the likes of circus legends Bill Irwin and Geoff Hoyle. She appeared among an entire town of street performers in Robert Altman’s 1980 film Popeye. By 18, she was attending a physical-theater school in Switzerland.

She co-founded 7 Fingers in 2002 and, for her first foray into Broadway, she was called upon by Pippin Director Diane Paulus to help re-tell Schwartz’s iconic story of a young prince’s quest for meaning in life set within the world of circus. Pippin won the 2013 Tony Award for best musical revival. Its first national touring production launches at Denver’s Buell Theatre on Sept. 6.

Pippin Profile 3 - Photo 3

Modern audiences who have a familiarity with circus generally think of Cirque du Soleil. But while Snider toured with Cirque and has a deep love for it, she says Pippin should not be mistaken for it. If anything, she said, it should evoke the old days of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.

“This is old-school, hard-core circus,” she said.

We’re talking juggling knives and swallowing fire.

“I would say that Cirque du Soleil is like the grandfather, and we are the rebellious teenagers,” she said.

Pippin culminates with a boy becoming a man, having to choose between a life of adventure or family. Snider has never had to pick  between the two – her small children are also embracing the circus life. But Snider’s life turned upside down in 2008, when she were diagnosed with advanced-stage colon cancer.

“It was definitely a life-changing experience,” she said. Much surgery, chemotherapy chemotherapy and radiation followed.

“Suddenly, my work felt trivial and my family became more important than ever before,” Snider said in a previous interview with Broadway Buzz. “I began to question how taxing show business can be and wondered if I should just move to the country and raise my two daughters in a stress-free environment, instead of in the glory of this wonderful but all consuming lifestyle. It was during this difficult time that Diane Paulus reached out to me about the possibility of collaborating on a new production of Pippin.”

And when she did, her charge to Snider was simple:

“Come make this thrilling.”

Here are more excerpts from our recent conversation with Snider for MyDenverCenter.Org. It took place just before rehearsals were to begin for the national touring production of Pippin as Snider and her family were visiting her parents’ family retreat in the Berkshires.

The Broadway cast of "Pippin," above. The first national touring production of the iconic musical, with circus creations by Gypsy Snider, launches in Denver on Sept. 6. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The Broadway cast of “Pippin,” above. The first national touring production of the iconic musical, with circus creations by Gypsy Snider, launches in Denver on Sept. 6. Photo by Joan Marcus.

 

John Moore: When you brought Traces to Denver in 2011, could you have even imagined what your immediate future had in store for you?

Gypsy Snider: Actually, Denver plays a semi-big part in this. When I was working in Denver, I saw all of the other productions that were being staged there at the time. I remember sitting there watching the (Denver Center Theatre Company’s) A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That’s when I knew that I wanted to get back to the States, that I wanted to work in the English language and that I wanted to work in the theatre. I remember saying that to (Denver Center for the Performing Arts President) Randy Weeks afterward. I got really excited about the possibilities from Denver on.

John Moore: How did the Pippin opportunity come about?

Gypsy Snider: My first conversation with (Director) Diane Paulus and (Producer) Barry Weissler coincided with Traces being in Denver. She had just done a Cirque production called Amaluna, so she was really starting to be familiar with the Montreal circus scene. She had already seen tons of videos of things we had done. Barry had been following us for several years. At my first meeting with him in New York, I was like, ‘What am I doing? How did I end up here?’ But Barry said, ‘Look, I don’t know what to do with you. But I know that I love what you do.’ And so, he continued to follow our shows. Later on, when Diane said, ‘I think we need to put circus into the Pippin story,’ Barry said, ‘How about Gypsy? And she said, ‘I totally know who you are talking about.’ And so then they sent me the script.

John Moore: I read somewhere that you had never seen Pippin before.

Gypsy Snider: No, I had not. Maybe I had remotely heard the music, but I didn’t associate it with the story. So I read the book and … it’s a very strange piece of literature. But I fell in love with it. I instantly knew what I wanted to do with it. I read it in one hour in my bed and I just … knew. When I met with Diane, I rambled on and on. I had no idea what I was getting into. But she was sold.

John Moore: Sounds to me like you are the rambling river in that story.

Gypsy Snider: Oh, Diane Paulus is a big river instigator. She saw my enthusiasm. And when she feels someone has an idea that is flowing, she does an incredible job of pushing that flow and guiding that flow.

John Moore: What specifically did you bring to the creative conversation?

Gypsy Snider: At 7 Fingers, we have a way of bringing emotion and texture into acrobatics. In a way, I think the passion and the theatricality that circus brings to it quickly became the backbone of this new project. Of course, Bob Fosse and Stephen Schwartz are the backbone of Pippin. But in terms of rejuvenating it, the circus became the backbone of doing it this way.

Pippin Profile 3 - Photo 5

John Moore: What was it like high-flying into the world of the original Pippin choreographer, the late Bob Fosse?

Gypsy Snider: I was fascinated to learn the extent to which Bob Fosse was a huge influence on my career — unbeknown to me. There is a kind of sexuality and a violence in his artwork that I always need whenever I am creating a show. I know that sex and violence sells TV shows, but Fosse really criticized the entertainment industry for the addictive and seductive nature of sexuality and violence in entertainment. I don’t mean to go off on a crazy tangent, but if we are talking about seducing Pippin into a living a more extraordinary life by luring him into something that could be potentially fatal … that’s the entertainment industry. In that way, we are really looking at a retrospective of Fosse’s life. That’s what I found so, so fascinating about it. And then there is the innocent side of Pippin: The loving family man, the “corner of the sky” Pippin. That was absolutely the Stephen Schwartz that I got to know, amazingly, through this production. He’s just so positive and so hard-working.

John Moore: How do you think Bob Fosse would have liked the idea of setting Pippin in a circus?

Gypsy Snider: I feel like Bob Fosse would have wanted us to do this, and that he would have done it himself if this were available to him at the time. Maybe not to this extent, but …  it was there. It was already there in the words.

John Moore: With this reimagined version of Pippin – both setting it in the circus and, more tellingly, in consideration of the life choice Pippin faces in the end – it seems to me as if maybe Diane Paulus is saying that Pippin is you.

Gypsy Snider: I think so. Diane and I are both the same age, and we both have two daughters. We have discussed on a very personal level the seduction of the business and this balance you try to achieve, being professional women who have families. It’s really like we are the Catherines — but we are also being seduced like the Pippins.  It was interesting for both of us how we connected on an emotional level to this musical. Pippin has this choice to make, and one of them it to embrace this simple home life with an older woman and her child living out in the country where there is no magic and there is no makeup — which is something Fosse presented in a very boring, very pejorative manner. And yet here I am talking to you right now while I am out here in the country with my children — and I love it. But I also love my work. I feed on it so much, and I am proud to show my children how passionate I am about my work.

John Moore: For 40 years, both audiences and writers alike have argued whether the ending to Pippin is a tragedy … or a compromise … or a perfect, happy ending. I imagine, given your life story, that you are split right down the middle.

Gypsy Snider: I am split down the middle. For me, circus is like eating and sleeping and family. It’s my brother; it’s my mother; it’s my father. Just talking about it makes me so emotional. There were maybe a few moments in my life when I felt like walking away from it, or perhaps trying something totally different. Circus is a very physically demanding life. It’s a very itinerant life. And when my kids started going to school, I was like, ‘What am I doing?’ But circus is my family, too. Sometimes I like to think of it as the mafia because it’s a very closed, tight-knit circle. But the reason is because there is so much danger and risk and sacrifice involved. True circus people know each other, and there is a whole sort of respect and value system to it that is so honorable and so genuine and so truthful. To true circus people, there is no nonsense. There is no competition. There is no, ‘I am better than you are.’ There is no, ‘I am going to be a star, but you are not going to be a star.’ Each individual circus performer is absolutely unique, and that uniqueness is valued. There is no one way to do anything. Unfortunately, it’s not like dance. To survive in the dance world, you have to sacrifice so much of your individuality and soul. Everyone wants to play Romeo, for example. In circus, that is not ever an issue. People don’t compare themselves. There is somehow a place for everyone.

John Moore: How do you feel about getting the whole Pippin creative team together and doing this all over again with a new cast?

Gypsy Snider: Diane, (Choreographer Chet Walker) and I have been talking about how exciting it is going to be to get back in the room.  I am feeling like this is going to be an incredible reunion for all three of us.

John Moore: Well, then … welcome in advance to Denver.

Gypsy Snider: I am so excited.  There is a place in Denver that sells poutine (gravy fries with cheese curds), so I am definitely looking forward to that.

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

Note: “The Pippin Profiles” is a series of interviews by Arts Journalist John Moore with the “Pippin The Musical” cast and creative team leading up to the launch of the first national touring production in Denver on Sept. 6. Dallas Summer Musicals is re-posting these on the DSM Blog to countdown the Opening Night of PIPPIN at the Music Hall at Fair Park – July 7-19!


Pippin_MusicHallSiteHeader

PIPPIN is presented by Dallas Summer Musicals July 7-19 at Music Hall at Fair Park. TICKETS ON SALE NOW! Just go to http://tinyurl.com/og2sxh7. For more details, click here.

Want a chance to win tickets to opening night? Download our mobile app and take our quick trivia quiz! To download our app, Apple users click here and Android users click here!

Posted in 2015 DSM Season | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Countdown to PIPPIN with The ‘Pippin’ Profiles: How Stephen Schwartz ran off with the circus

The ‘Pippin’ Profiles: How Stephen Schwartz ran off with the circus

by John Moore | Aug 20, 2014

Stephen Schwartz

Stephen Schwartz

Stephen Schwartz likes to joke that somewhere, “Bob Fosse is surely looking up and laughing.”

He kids about the direction. But not the director. Fosse was Schwartz’s legendary collaborator on the musical Pippin, which in war-torn 1972 brought a surreal collision of violence, innocence and sexuality to the Broadway stage.

Fosse, known for his provocative choreography and fiery temper, died in 1987. Last year, a significantly re-imagined Pippin won the Tony Award for Best Musical Revival, and its new national touring production will launching in Denver on Sept. 6.

“I think Bob would be thrilled with this,” said Schwartz, the composer who 40 years ago openly questioned the darkness and overindulgence that Fosse brought to Schwartz’s sweet story of a naïve boy searching for meaning in his life.

“There were specific choices Bob made that I honestly thought were heavy-handed and crude, and not in a good way,” Schwartz said. But now at age 66, Schwartz added, “I joke that I have ironically become the defender of Bob’s vision.”

Schwartz and book writer Roger O. Hirson have been approached dozens of times over the years by artists wanting to revisit Pippin.

“Frankly, I think merely reproducing the original — if that were even possible —  would have felt quite dated,” Schwartz said. “And none of the new approaches made much sense to us.”

Any revival would bring big challenges. “The Fosse choreography is so iconic, and the performance of Ben Vereen (as the Leading Player) was so indelible, even to people who didn’t actually see it,” Schwartz said. “So it really would need a concept that was going to overcome all that without obliterating the show. And that was quite difficult to come by.”

Enter Diane Paulus, the groundbreaking director who brought the Vietnam musical Hair back to explosive life on Broadway in 2009. Her new idea? The original mysterious troupe would now be a circus family performing the story of Pippin. Now the young prince’s quest for meaning would be a death-defying one, set against live and often breathtaking acrobatics.

Schwartz and Hinson were apprehensive at first. “But I think I can speak for Roger when I say we have been totally won over,” Schwartz said. “Frankly, I think Diane is a better director of scenes and actors than Bob Fosse was. And consequently, I think the story is better told.”

Pippin began as a 17-year-old Schwartz’s spin-off of The Lion in Winter, a play about the foibles of King Henry II in 1183. Over the next seven years, the Pippin project came to reflect Schwartz’s own journey as a young man in his 20s.

Fosse, then 47, agreed to direct and choreograph Pippin on Broadway if allowed to make the story more dark and sophisticated. Fosse brought in Ben Vereen, fresh off his electric performance in Jesus Christ Superstar, to play the Leading Player, a narrator of sorts who leads Pippin down many dangerous roads.

Schwartz says it’s “absolutely accurate” to suggest that, essentially, he is Pippin, “particularly in talking about me at age 24,” he said. “I think more and more that the character of Pippin became a great deal like me at that time.”

But what became intriguingly clear to Circus Creator Gypsy Snyder, who had never seen Pippin before the recent revival, is that Fosse is the Leading Player.

“When you look at the sexuality and the seduction and the violence and the eroticism of the piece,” Snyder said, “ …  then we are really looking at a retrospective of Fosse’s life. And then you have is the innocent side of Pippin: The loving family man, the ‘Corner of the Sky” Pippin. That was absolutely the Stephen Schwartz that I got to know through this production. He’s just so positive and so hard-working and he keeps an innocent eye. That’s Pippin.”

Schwartz concurs.

“Bob’s was the more worldly-wise point of view,” Schwartz said. “And Roger Hirson, who was in his 40s when we opened, may have been the Charlemagne character.”

Read more about this and more in this exclusive, expansive interview with one of the leading figures in American theatre history. Schwartz, who has contributed to Wicked, Godspell, Children of Eden and many more, is a member of the Theatre Hall of Fame and president of the Dramatists Guild. He has three Academy Awards, four Grammy Awards, four Drama Desk Awards and, shockingly, no Tony Awards.

Pippin Profile 1 - Photo 2

John Moore: So where did I find you today?

Stephen Schwartz: I am getting ready to visit Trumbull, Conn., because a high school there has a drama troupe run by a girl who very bravely last year resisted censorship on their production of Rent. And The Directors Guild, of which I am president, has honored her with a courage award. Now her troupe is doing Children of Eden, so it’s kind of come full circle. And so, in appreciation for what she has done, I am taking myself to Trumbull.

John Moore: It meant a lot to the students attending last month’s Jimmy Awards in New York when you stopped by to speak to them.

Stephen Schwartz: Well, Music Theatre International, which represents most of my shows, is very active with the Jimmy Awards, and they asked if I would come and talk with them. And pretty much anything MTI asks me to do, I do —  because they have been very good to me over the years.

John Moore: Well, I  think you have been pretty good to MTI, too.

Stephen Schwartz: (laughing): Well, thanks. I really enjoyed getting a chance to talk to the kids. They were amazing. It was really cool to spend a little time with them.

John Moore What was your message of encouragement to them?

Stephen Schwartz: I am a big believer in — and living proof of — the theory of ‘follow your bliss.’ This is a very difficult and often very mean business. But if this is your dream, and you persevere at it, it is possible for people to make a living, and make a life, in this profession. My advice to them is the same as my advice to my own children: If you pursue what you want to do, you may not wind up where you thought you were going to, exactly, but it will take you somewhere you are more likely to want to be than if you made the ‘safe,’ or perhaps the ‘sane’ choice. If you think, ‘I’ll wait, and at some point I’ll pursue what I actually want do do’ … then I don’t think that necessarily works out for the better.

John Moore: Wait, I didn’t think we were talking about Pippin yet. But apparently we are.

Stephen Schwartz: Well yes. There we are… You know, Pippin, in the end, makes the sane choice.

Pippin Profile 1 - Photo 3
John Moore: I am sure you have been told over and over about how your music has changed the course of young peoples’ lives. But for my generation, it was  and Pippin doing the life-changing, and now you have this whole new generation of theatre kids all geeked out because, hey: You’re the guy who wrote Wicked.

Stephen Schwartz: It is sort of strange, isn’t it? But obviously it’s nice that at my … advanced … age, if you will, that I have come up with something – along with my collaborators — that has spoken to people of all ages, but particularly to a young generation.

John Moore: So whose idea was it to revisit Pippin now?

Stephen Schwartz: It was really (Director) Diane Paulus, who had been wanting to do it for quite a while. I was an admirer of her work, particularly on (the Broadway revival of) Hair, which I thought was excellent. I felt Diane had managed to both honor the original but also make it fresh, and that is a quite tricky line to walk. After I really got to see her way of thinking, and her creativity, in a show called Blue Flower at her (American Repertory Theatre) in Boston, I became enthusiastic that she was someone who might be able to pull this off. And, of course, she has proven that in spades. 

John Moore: So what did you think when Diane said, ‘I want to put this in a circus’?

Stephen Schwartz: I had actually heard the idea of a circus before. And it wasn’t something that I thought was a great idea, to be honest, because I was picturing a different kind of circus. But then Diane, who has done work with Cirque du Soleil, told me about this troupe from Montreal called Les 7 doigts de la main, or ‘The 7 Fingers of the Hand.’ I went to see a show of theirs that happened to be touring the States. We discussed it further and I began to have a glimmer of what Diane was talking about. But I have to say that until I saw it, I really didn’t truly understand what she meant, and what her vision was. I just didn’t. I think that’s one of the things about someone who is as gifted and as visionary as Diane. She had these ideas in her head that are difficult to express verbally — but then when you see them, you get them. 

Pippin Profile 1 - Photo 4

John Moore: And so now that you have lived in it, how do you articulate to people that this is the winning formula?

Stephen Schwartz: That is a good question. Other than by assertion, I’m not sure that I know how to do that. It’s important for you to understand that Diane did not just overlay circus performance on top of the show as some kind of gimmick. First of all, she integrated the idea of the circus performances into the storytelling. It’s not as if the show grinds to a halt and they do a circus trick, and then the story starts up again. Secondly, the way that she and Gypsy Snider did the circus part of the show, and the way Chet Walker did the choreography, is very special, I think. In some instances, the choreography is a very faithful re-creation of Bob Fosse’s work. And in other places, I think what Chet has done is a very creative interpretation of what Bob might have done under these new circumstances. So it really is a complete re-envisioning of Pippin. This is a revisal as well as a revival of the show — on all levels.

John Moore: How do you think Bob would have liked this new approach?

Stephen Schwartz: I think Bob would be thrilled with this. I think if we had been able to think of some of the changes we have made together, he would have been extremely enthusiastic about them. Just the sheer sort of theatricality of the staging and this presentation, I think would have pleased him very much. 

John Moore: You have said the inspiration for Pippin actually comes from James Goldman’s play The Lion in Winter.

Stephen Schwartz: That’s true. It started as a sort of a medieval court intrigue musical melodrama.  And then it gradually transmogrified into being semi-autobiographical. And then it turned into the story of my generation — as I saw it.

John Moore: So here’s a quick Lion in Winter story: I was reviewing a production by a venerable community theatre for The Denver Post. And as we are leaving, an older audience member sees my notebook and stops me. She says, ‘Now you be sure to put in your review that that was the most understandable Shakespeare play I have ever seen!’

Stephen Schwartz (laughing): That is so great. And you know what? She is right. That is absolutely the best description of The Lion in Winter I have ever heard. I hope you put it in your review. That is perfect.

John Moore: You bet I did.

Stephen Schwartz: That is just hilarious.

John Moore: So getting back to of Bob Fosse … I’ve noticed over the years that whenever you are interviewed, you are so disarmingly honest in your answers. One might even say Pippin-esque —

Stephen Schwartz: Yes, and that gets me into trouble a lot of the time.

John Moore: Well I respect how you’ve openly discussed your initial, honest discomfort with how far Mr. Fosse was taking things. So I am wondering how you feel about this new version in those terms.

Stephen Schwartz: I do feel quite honestly that there were some choices Bob made that I thought were just – well, overindulgent is the best word. That went beyond the concept of the sexuality that he injected into it.

John Moore: And here’s where I think the real danger lies: It’s not whether Broadway gets it right, or the national touring production, because you control that. But you can’t know how that indulgence expresses itself in local productions across the country that might not have someone to reign it in. I have seen productions of Pippin where they take that Bob Fosse element and they times it by 10.

Stephen Schwartz: Yes, I know — and that’s so not the show. And it really misses the tone that Bob was going for, and I think largely succeeded with. What I like about this new production, is that, yes, it is still a very sexy show. And a lot of those elements that Bob created remain in the show intact. But I think Diane, with her intelligence — and frankly with her taste — never lets it go over the line. Even in the famed ‘sex ballet’ section, it doesn’t go over the line, I feel.

Pippin Profile 1 - Photo 5

John Moore: You may get a kick out of the headline of my essay after having seen the new revival on Broadway last October. It read: “Broadway wins over a Pippin pessimist.” 

Stephen Schwartz: Well you know what? That could MY headline on this one, too.

John Moore: You’re kidding … Really?

Stephen Schwartz: Oh, yeah. Because Roger and I resisted for so long going forward. I don’t know if we were pessimistic, but we certainly had trepidation about it. And I think I can speak for Roger when I say we have been totally won over. I am just a huge fan of this production.

John Moore: I never had any question about Pippin the character, or his story, because it’s so clearly universal. I wrote, ‘You don’t have to be 17 and coming of age to feel this show in your open heart and rambling bones. You just have to have come of age.’ That has to be somewhat true of any 17-year-old of any century. But my first Pippin was a very small community theatre production in 1986, and I remember feeling that it felt like this was a signature work for its time – which was the 1970s. So at first, I wasn’t sure how revisiting it in 2012 could really work, or why it was even necessary – not without turning it into a whole new modern, hipper theatre experience. But I think what impressed me the most about this new version was how muscular it was. I mean, this show is a true physical display of athletic and acrobatic skill.  I also thought it was just charming in how self-deprecating it was in its telling.

Stephen Schwartz: I agree with all of that. So much of Pippin was of its time. It was written in the time of the Vietnam War and the Generation Gap and ‘Don’t trust anybody over 30.’ And in that whole context, frankly, I think merely reproducing the original — if that were even possible —  would have felt quite dated. That’s one of the reasons I was optimistic when Diane approached me, because that’s one of the things she achieved with Hair. It was of its time, but it had a contemporary sensibility. It was like living in the moment, and then looking at the moment at the same time — and I thought that was a pretty remarkable achievement. Pippin is certainly less specifically of its time than Hair was of its, but I still think that’s part of what Diane has achieved here.

John Moore: I’m glad you brought up the Vietnam War, because I am of the generation that just missed most of that, so I did not grow up thinking of war as a universal. But now, everyone who is Pippin’s age in America has lived their entire conscious lives with their country in a state of military conflict.

Stephen Schwartz: Exactly.

John Moore: … So maybe young people today will take a perspective into this new Pippin that’s more in line with the young people who saw Pippin in 1972. War is a universal for this generation – because, for them, it’s always been there.

Stephen Schwartz: Well, that’s unfortunately a “for sure.” And in that same kind of controversial and divisive way that the Vietnam War was. It’s not like World War II, where everyone was united in thinking this was something that we had to do as a country. Iraq was extremely polarizing and divisive, so … yeah.

John Moore: Let’s touch on a couple of other key elements. First, you have changed the ending. What can we say about that without giving anything away?

Stephen Schwartz: Now, that is something I have no doubt Bob Fosse would have been happy with, if only we had thought of it back then. There are reasons we couldn’t have – reasons that go beyond just that we weren’t smart enough to think of it. But I will say this new ending is so clearly the right ending for the show.

John Moore: Why do you say you two could not have eventually come up with this new idea the first time around?

Stephen Schwartz: It has to do with the fact that, in the original show, the character of Theo was a little boy. He was 6. In this cast, he is a bit older than that.

John Moore: OK, I am going to leave it at that.

Stephen Schwartz: And so will I.

Pippin Profile 1 - Photo 6
John Moore: You mentioned Ben Vereen. Obviously a huge change is having your Leading Player be played by a woman.

Stephen Schwartz: I knew one of the problems we would have to overcome in doing any big, commercial revival of Pippin would be memory of Ben Vereen everybody would bring into it. You’d start out with people wanting to see that. And, of course, that’s impossible. So we had to either somehow break that — or overcome that. So when Diane said, ‘Well, what if the character of the Leading Player is a woman?’ — that made us think, ‘Well … then you can’t be sitting there saying, ‘He’s no Ben Vereen!’ —  which is what I think any male performer would have encountered. Oddly enough, I feel like, now that we have done this — If at some point in the future we wanted to go back to a male Leading Player, there are certain things about the way the show is written, and some of the new things that we have added — particularly between the Leading Player and Catherine — that I think would not go down as well if the Leading Player were male. It would seem a little brutal.

John Moore: And before we leave: How great is it that you have John Rubinstein coming on board to play Pippin’s father after having originated the role of Pippin in 1972?

Stephen Schwartz: Is that the best? I mean, is that the best ever? And this was not stunt casting. We walked into the auditions and John Rubinstein’s name was on the list. There were some other really good people, too. Of course, we were amazed and delighted that John was coming in to audition. But he was the best. Frankly, I don’t think we would have done it if we hadn’t felt that he was the best choice. But the idea of it was so irresistible. There was one moment in auditions, and it was only for Roger and me. John read the chapel scene and there is a line where Pippin says, ‘Time has passed you by, father.’ And Charlemagne’s line back is, ‘And your time has come, my son?’  I mean, hearing that from John? I can’t even talk about it. It was just so emotional to hear John Rubinstein say that line. I know it doesn’t have the same resonance for people who are just seeing the show for the first time. But for Roger and me? That was a pretty emotional moment.

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

Note: “The Pippin Profiles” is a series of interviews by Arts Journalist John Moore with the “Pippin The Musical” cast and creative team leading up to the launch of the first national touring production in Denver on Sept. 6. Dallas Summer Musicals is re-posting these on the DSM Blog to countdown the Opening Night of PIPPIN at the Music Hall at Fair Park – July 7-19!


Pippin_MusicHallSiteHeader

PIPPIN is presented by Dallas Summer Musicals July 7-19 at Music Hall at Fair Park. TICKETS ON SALE NOW! Just go to http://tinyurl.com/og2sxh7. For more details, click here.

Want a chance to win tickets to opening night? Download our mobile app and take our quick trivia quiz! To download our app, Apple users click here and Android users click here!

Posted in 2015 DSM Season | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The road to the 2015 National High School Musical Theatre Awards – Day 6

Hi DSM Fans!

We are back for Day 6 of the 2015 National High School Musical Theatre Awards!

Yesterday was the big day for Chris and Katelyn – they got to perform on Broadway for the very first time! Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the performance here at home. Last night was the Jimmy Awards at the Minskoff Theatre (where THE LION KING calls home). And what an incredible evening! Though neither of them won the award for the night, they both have come away from this experience as a better actors and performers! Check out below to hear about their day and see some awesome videos and photos!

From Chris:

Such a bittersweet feeling leaving! I can’t wait to be with my family in NYC, but also so hard to leave these amazing people I met over this week! Performing on Broadway yesterday was the most incredible feeling! I got to meet Michael Cerveris, one of the Matilda kids, and even got a high five from Robbie Fairchild during the closing number! This was the most incredible and rewarding experience of my life and I’m so great full to be here. Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened :) Thanks Dallas!

From Katelyn:

The second the lights came up for the opening number, my heart began to race, my face lit up, and I felt exhilarated and so much at home all at the same time. After that I got to put a character I’d been working on for almost a year now on the Minskoff stage for some of the biggest names in the business. It will go down as one of the most memorable moments that changed my life.

I got to perform on Broadway at the age of 18. That’s something a lot of people can say at any age. I’m just so grateful I got the opportunity to come together with kids all across the country to pull off something incredible. The magic held in the walls of that building will stay with me forever. The people I met were amazingly talented and gifted in what they do whether they’d been all over Broadway, or a kid here for the first time. 

Check out these videos Chris sent us from backstage!

After Rehearsal on stage in the Men’s Dressing Room:

Here’s Chris when they called places backstage:

Finally, their day was best captured via photos. Check them out in the slideshow below!

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What a fantastic experience Chris and Katelyn had in NYC. Thanks for tuning in to our blog every day to see their progress and their thoughts. They appreciate all of the love and support they received at home and will never forget this experience! We wish them all the best in their future endeavors and hope to see them back on Broadway soon!

Until next year!

-DSM Amanda

Posted in All In A Day's Work, DSM Blog Posts | Tagged , | Leave a comment