The splendor of ‘PIPPIN’Entertainment Feature, Entertainment News, Section 4A Thursday, August 20th, 2015
San Diegans are in for a treat as two of the original cast members of the iconic show reunite
Many direct-from-Broadway national tours come through San Diego every year at the San Diego Civic Theatre, home of Broadway San Diego. Last year we were the second city to host the Tony Award winning Cyndi Lauper musical Kinky Boots. And, both Book of Mormon, returning in February 2016, and Wicked have proven to be patron favorites.
Aug. 25, 43 years after its debut on Broadway, the nine-time Tony Award winning Stephen Schwartz musical Pippin comes to San Diego.
When Pippin debuted on Broadway in 1972, it brought together a young composer, Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell), and renowned director/choreographer Bob Fosse (Chicago, Sweet Charity). They created a show that was heralded for its staging and cast more than for it’s story and score.
In 2013 Pippin was revived on Broadway, with a whole new circus style look/performance and the iconic Ben Vereen role of the Leading Player now being played by a woman. Gabrielle McClinton, a San Diego native, takes on that iconic role and shares what an incredible opportunity it is to be playing the part.
“Well, I feel extremely grateful,” McClinton said. “It’s definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity to play a role of this caliber – incorporating acting, singing and dance all to the highest degree. I feel lucky to be able to make it my own while learning from everyone who’s played the role before me.”
However, McClinton admits that before being cast in the show, she didn’t really know too much about the 1972 musical.
“Before Pippin, I didn’t know that much about the show,” she said. “I had seen a production of it at my high school. I definitely didn’t understand the depth of the show back then. Once I started rehearsals, I couldn’t stop watching Ben Vereen on YouTube. He’s the epitome of a fearless performer with the freest spirit. He always keeps you on your toes and you never know what he’s going to do next. He blows my mind.”
Growing up, McClinton had a number of influences that shaped who she wanted to be as a performer. So, it should come as no surprise that it was the women of Broadway that inspired her most.
“My earliest influences were all of the leading ladies of Broadway,” she said. “I would buy all of the cast albums and listen to them from start to finish singing along with the lyrics from front to back. I think it was just amazing to see these women completely own what they do and shine for that sole reason. Owning who they are-what they sound, dance, act like.”
What sets this version of the show apart from most cities it plays to is the fact that San Diegans will get to see two of the original cast members of the show reunited.
John Rubinstein, who originated the role of Pippin in 1972, returns to the show playing Pippin’s father King Charlemagne. And, Priscilla Lopez, best known for her role as Diana Morales in the original cast of A Chorus Line, and from her Tony Award winning performance in A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine.
Rubinstein, a veteran stage and screen actor, eloquently admits what it has been like to step back in time, in a sense, in a show he was a part of so many years ago.
“Getting to do this show was a true gift to me from the director, and from the authors and producers,” Rubinstein said. “It’s very much like getting to move back into the home you lived in happily as a child, but now it’s been redecorated, and some walls broken down, and new carpeting and furniture, and the kitchen has more room and modern appliances. And there are a whole bunch of great new people living there, too. So it’s really a brand new experience – but it’s still your old home, and you lived there before any of these folks were around. So there is definite nostalgia, some great memories, some sadness, even, from missing the people and the things that are gone. But there is huge joy that the old place is still there, that it still is giving comfort and shelter to new people; and that you get the chance to be there again and share it anew.”
Many of the original cast members are sadly no longer with us, but for Rubinstein, it’s all about his new role, the new team of performers and putting on a great show.
However, there are a few moments in the show, and what he faced playing his new role, that literally take him back to the original production.
“One thing is definitely a déjà vu,” Rubinstein confides. “I do channel the voice – not the line-readings or even the interpretation, since Diane Paulus has directed this revival quite differently than Fosse did, and Charlemagne is presented in a different way than originally – but the actual sound of Eric Berry’s (the original Charles) voice. I didn’t even do it on purpose; but when I first auditioned for this revival, I heard Eric when I spoke. He was just there. It’s an entirely re-imagined and re-shaped view of this character, but Eric’s sound is with me on stage every night.”
As for Lopez, she joined Rubinstein in the cast of Pippin in 1974, playing his step-mother Frastrada. This time around she’ll take on the role of Pippin’s outspoken grandmother Berthe.
When asked what it was like to be reunited with Rubinstein after all these years, in the same show but in different parts, it’s clear that Lopez has a special place in her heart for him.
“Reuniting with John again after 42 years is a very special gift,” Lopez admits. “I identify with him. I respect his commitment and dedication to his craft and his love of performing. I watch him nightly as the older and wiser King but at the same time I will always see that young and exuberant Pippin. The fact that we were both able to step into these older roles at the same time in the same show, is pretty extraordinary”.
When each actor was asked if they had a favorite part of the show, it was Rubinstein that had the most, five to be exact. It’s really no surprise seeing that he’s probably been in the show longer than anyone else.
“I always loved doing ‘On The Right Track’ with Ben Vereen. I also loved singing ‘Love Song.’ This one fell into the groove the moment Jill Clayburgh and I first rehearsed it. I’ve always enjoyed the ‘Morning Glow.’ [Todays] Pippin’s wail through it with seeming effortlessness, with higher notes than I was asked to sing, and it’s a bigger aria. I never get tired of hearing it and Charlemagne’s best scene is in the Arles cathedral. I look forward to it every night. And I do love calling Lewis an ‘asshole.’ Very satisfying. My 9-year-old son Max says that that line, and when I call Lewis ‘stupid,’ are his two favorite moments.”
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