Pippin does Cirque

Updated Broadway classic flips onto Schuster stage

By Joyell Nevins

Photo: Sasha Allen as Leading Player and the cast of the National Tour of Pippin. Pippin comes to the Schuster Center Oct. 6-11; photo: Terry Shapiro

There’s magic to do, and a spectacle just for you when the revival of Pippin comes to town! Director Diane Paulus and Gypsy Snider of Les 7 Doigts de la Main (7 Fingers) have taken the imaginative Stephen Schwartz musical and added to it a circus flair.

“It’s as if a classic Broadway musical married a Cirque du Soleil show and had a baby,” explains cast member Brian Flores, who plays the namesake role of Pippin.

As the stage opens, the “circus tent” comes down, and the dancing, twirling and acrobatics begin.

“It’s a huge, exciting opening,” says cast member Bradley Benjamin, who plays Pippin’s love interest Catherine—and who admits the cast starts dancing backstage even before the curtain goes up.

“The stage is so alive with color and people flying through the air,” she continues.

Throughout the show, you may see unicycles, body bending, acrobatic tricks, fire juggling, hula hooping and knife throwing. Many of the cast members actually come from a circus or gymnastics background.

The story follows Pippin, a young prince who longs to find passion, adventure and meaning in his life. He gets connected with a performing troupe, led by the Leading Player (film and Broadway actress Gabrielle McClinton). The process to find his purpose brings war, heartache, murder and true love.

Pippin has a book by Roger O. Hirson and music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, the Tony-winning composer behind shows such as Wicked and Godspell. Also included in Schwartz’s long list of works are musical movies like “Pocahontas” and “The Prince of Egypt.” Ever heard “Corner of the Sky,” “Magic to Do” or “Morning Glory”? All of those songs come from this show.

The main question throughout the musical is whether Pippin will choose a happy, but simple life. Or will he risk everything for a singular flash of glory? In fact, one of Flores’s favorite scenes is the song “Extraordinary,” where Pippin sings about how he is meant for bigger things. This song includes a back flip by Flores—which he admits took much practice and spotting to get right!

Although a majority of the cast, including Flores and Benjamin, are new for the tour, the production is taken straight from the 2013 Broadway revival—the first time Pippin had been on Broadway since its initial run from 1972-1977. The revival was the most nominated Broadway show of 2013, winning Drama Desk Awards, Outer Critic Circle Awards, the Drama League Award and snagging four Tonys. Pippin won the 2013 Tonys for Best Revival of a Musical, Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical and Best Director of a Musical.

Paulus was no stranger to the Tonys, having directed the Tony award-winner revival of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess and the Public Theaters’ Tony-nominated revival of Hair (fun fact: Hair’s original premiere was the first show the Public Theater ever performed in its downtown New York space more than 40 years ago). Paulus, who was selected for TIME Magazine’s 2014 list of the 100 most influential people in the world, combined efforts with another influential woman. She teamed up with circus genius Snider, who is a “Finger,” or core member of Les 7 Doigts de la Main (this group is worth their own look: 7doigts.com). The Montreal-based Doigts are the creative force behind the award winning contemporary circus-show Traces. Paulus and Snider then brought on Tony-nominated choreographer Chet Walker to bring the Bob Fosse style dance to life (fun fact #2: Fosse actually directed the original Broadway version of Pippin).

“Between the acrobatics and Fosse dancing, the show is very physically demanding,” Benjamin says.

Add a full creative team behind the scenes—music arrangements by Nadia DiGiallonardo, orchestrations by Tony Award-winner Larry Hochman, scenic design by Tony Award winner Scott Pask, costume design by Dominique Lemieux, lighting design by Tony Award-winner Kenneth Posner, sound design by Jonathan Deans and Garth Helm—and voila! The result is spectacular.

“It’s an amazing musical to watch,” Flores says. He actually joined the tour partway through, and watched the show 30 times before ever performing with the troupe on stage.

“I watched it from every angle—the pit, the lighting booth, backstage and every single time there was something new I noticed,” Flores declares.

Both Flores and Benjamin stressed the importance of keeping your eyes open while in the audience—there is so much happening on stage, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But just hang on and stay alert!

“Just let the show kind of happen for you,” Flores stresses. “Let your eye go to wherever it goes. And you should be stoked (to attend)–it’s an amazing show!”


The Victoria Theatre Association presents Pippin, Oct. 6-11, at the Benjamin & Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center,. 1 W. Second St. Tickets are on sale now at Ticket Center Stage, located in downtown Dayton, by calling 937.228.3630 or 888.228.3630 and online at ticketcenterstage.com. For more information about the show, please visit pippinthemusical.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Joyell Nevins at JoyellNevins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Joyell Nevins
Joyell believes in the power of the written word, a good cup of coffee, and sometimes, the need for a hug (please, no Tommy Boy references). Follow her on her blog “Small World, Big God” at swbgblog.wordpress.com or reach her at joyellnevins@daytoncitypaper.com

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