The original Broadway run of "Pippin" is well-known for its spectacular Bob Fosse choreography and memorable Stephen Schwartz show tunes, but a new touring production ups the ante with knife-throwing, trapeze work and other circus feats.
As written, the show focuses on a troupe of actors led by a character known as the Leading Player, who frequently breaks the "fourth wall" to address the audience while guiding a new actor named Pippin through his existential crisis. In the new national tour of the show, which runs Tuesday through June 21 at the Fisher Theatre, the troupe of protagonists are re-imagined as circus performers.
Gypsy Snider is credited with "circus creation" on the tour and the 2013 Broadway revival that spawned it. Snider says she was "born and raised in the circus," so she immediately responded to "Pippin" 's characters when she read the script
"We came and we did sort of magical things and everybody kind of oohed and aahed and then we moved on," she says of her childhood as the daughter of two circus founders. "All my friends were on the road, so I was already really relating to the troupe. But then I think what got me was the second half of the show, the idea that we might actually not want extraordinary magical lives, but we might actually want something very simple."
In the touring show that turning point comes courtesy of a major guest star: Adrienne Barbeau, best known for originating the role of "Grease" 's Rizzo on Broadway and portraying Carol Traynor on TV's "Maude." In "Pippin," Barbeau portrays Berthe, Pippin's grandmother. "Pippin" is Barbeau's first tour since 1965 and she says she's particularly enjoyed the experience because Berthe's crucial advice to Pippin aligns with her personal philosophy.
"She says, 'You think too much,' " Barbeau says. "'You need to learn to live in the moment because there's no telling what's going to happen next ...' And I try to do that. I try to stay in the moment as best I can."
Snider contributed seven performers from her own circus troupe to the show. But the vast majority of the performers in "Pippin" are like Barbeau: actors by trade, rather than acrobats or circus professionals. Snider says she was amazed at the "gumption" the actors brought to what she describes as "extreme musical theater." But to hear Barbeau tell it, it's not a chance she could have passed up.
"It's Cirque du Soleil at its finest," she says. "It's set against this wonderful music and a wonderful story with great actors in the principal roles. What you're going to be seeing is something that you're going to have to come back and see more than once, because there's so much going on onstage at every moment."
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer
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