• 2017 Colorado Fall Theatre Preview: 'Elephant’s Graveyard' and 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame'

    by John Moore | Sep 03, 2017
    For 10 days, the DCPA NewsCenter is offering not just 10 intriguing titles to watch on theatre stages throughout Colorado. This year we are expanding our preview by featuring 10 musicals AND 10 plays. Today is Day 5.

    PLAY OF THE DAY: Bas Bleu’s Elephant’s Graveyard

    Featured actor in the video above: Kaya Rudolph

    • Sept. 9-Oct. 8
    • 401 Pine St., Fort Collins
    970-498-8949 or go to basbleu.org
    • Playwright: George Brant
    • Director: Garrett Ayers
    • Assistant Director: Baylor Bebo

    The story: September 1916. Carrying boundless momentum (and a 6-ton elephant), a traveling circus makes its way to a small town in Tennessee, only to stumble into catastrophe. Through memory and storytelling, Elephant's Graveyard describes what happened before, during and after the event that still haunts that Tennessee town to this day.

    But what is it about? Elephant's Graveyard is an important, timely story - particularly in lieu of recent events in Charlottesville, Va. The title has a double meaning, says actor Kaya Rudolph: An elephant really was hung at a circus in Tennessee. That was a century ago. But the elephant in the room remains the racial divide that continues to smolder in America. Elephant’s Graveyard employs physicality and humor, a live Piedmont Blues score and 15 cubic tons of dirt to explore issues related to race, the multiple perspectives of history and the uniquely American appetite for spectacle and violence. (Provided by Bas Bleu Theatre. Photo above by William A. Cotton.)

    Cast list:
    • Hungry Townsperson: Kaya Rudolph
    • Muddy Townsperson: Tabitha Tyree
    • Young Townsperson: Holly Wedgeworth
    • Preacher: Jim Valone
    • Steam Shovel Operator: Wesley Longacre
    • Marshal: Gregory Clark
    • Engineer: Drew Cuthbertson
    • Ringmaster: Nick Holland
    • Strongman: Ken Benda
    • Ballet Girl: Kate Lewis
    • Clown: Liz Kirchmeier
    • Trainer: Liam Kelley
    • Tour Manager: Scott McCoppin
    • Guitarist/Foley Musician: Paul Brewer

    Rehearsal for Bas Bleu Theatre's 'Elephant's Graveyard' in Fort Collins. Photo by William A. Cotton.
    Rehearsal for Bas Bleu Theatre's 'Elephant's Graveyard' in Fort Collins. Photo by William A. Cotton.

    MUSICAL OF THE DAY: Evergreen Chorale’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame

    Featured actor in the video above: Adam Kinney.

    • Sept. 15-Oct. 8
    • At Center/Stage, 27608 Fireweed Drive, Evergreen
    A Adam Kinney 400Call 303-674-4002 or go to evergreenchorale.org
    Based on the novel and songs from the Disney film. Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and Book by Peter Parnell.
    • Stage Director: Timothy Kennedy
    • Musical Director: Christine Gaudreau

    • The story:
    Our story, featuring a cast of 53, is based on Victor Hugo's novel, set in 15th century Paris. Quasimodo is confined in Notre Dame by his evil guardian, Frollo. They both love the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda, who prefers Phoebus, captain of the guard. Seeking vengeance, Frollo attacks the gypsies. Quasimodo, Phoebus and Esmeralda are captured and meet a tragic end. 

    • But what is it about? "This show asks so many questions that are so relevant to the turbulent times that we live in," says Adam Kinney, who plays Quasimodo. Questions like, "What makes a monster and what makes a man?" Although written in 1831, the theme of people being discriminated by society for their appearance or background resonates today. Set to Alan Menken’s gorgeous music, The Hunchback of Notre Dame challenges us to strive for a better world. (Provided by the Evergreen Chorale.)

    Cast list:
    Quasimodo: Adam Kinney
    Frollo: Mike DeJonge
    Esmeralda: Hannah Marie Harmon
    Phoebus: Brian DeBaets
    Clopin: Brian Trampler

    The Ensemble:
    Katrina Atkinson, Alexandra Rose Brown, Wyatt Burnham, Dave Cameron, Edie Cherubino, Tracy Denver, Sierra Dunham, Mark Fairchild, Buz Gibson, Michelle Jeffres, Lindsey Jones, Christine Kahane, Ian Kisluk, Colleen Lee, Anna MacPhee, Jeremiah Martinez, Dodge McCord, Max McCord, Drew McDowell, Anna Piper, Charlee Polivka, Alan Rubin, Becky Sides, Ethan Sides, Zane Steele, Jessica Swanson and Samantha Wood.

    Choir of Notre Dame:
    Laurie Atkinson, Bob Baldwin, Greg Bond, Chris Boyd, Mayra Delgadillo, Alyssa Gerard, Sara Hashman, Charlie Hodes, Geri Ikelheimer, Anna Lacjak, Genevieve LeBlanc, Tom McAllister, Zach Miller, Sophie Orsund, Jonathan Pine, Danita Richter, Richard Scudder, Sarah Steen, Ariel Thomas, Madeleine Wilson and Trevor Wood.

    More creatives:
    • Choreographer: Rachael McWilliams Lessard
    • Costume Designer: Davis Sibley
    • Set Designer: Biz Schaugaard
    • Lighting Designer: Chelsea Asmus

    Rehearsal for the Evergreen Chorale's upcoming 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame.'

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Our complete 2017 Colorado Fall Theatre Preview:
    Day 1: Curious Theatre's Appropriate and BDT Stage's Rock of Ages
    Day 2: The Catamounts’ You on the Moors Now and Rocky Mountain Rep’s Almost Heaven: Songs of John Denver
    Day 3: Creede Repertory Theatre's General Store and Town Hall Arts Center's In the Heights
    Day 4: Avenue Theater’s My Brilliant Divorce and the Arvada Center’s A Chorus Line
    Day 5: Bas Bleu’s Elephant’s Graveyard and Evergreen Chorale’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame
    Day 6: Firehouse Theatre’s The Mystery of Love and Sex and the Aurora Fox’s ‘Company’
    Day 7: Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company’s The Revolutionists and Off-Center’s The Wild Party
    Day 8: Lake Dillon Theatre Company's Pretty Fire and the Aurora Fox's Hi-Hat Hattie
    Day 9: Edge Theatre Company’s A Delicate Balance and Midtown Arts Center’s Once.
    Day 10:  Local Theater Company’s The Rape of the Sabine Women, by Grace B. Matthias and Thin Air Theatre Company’s The Toxic Avenger Musical

    This 2017 Colorado fall preview is compiled by Denver Center for the Performing Arts Senior Arts Journalist John Moore as a service to the Colorado theatre community. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011 and is the founder of The Denver Actors Fund.
  • Hedwig's Stephen Trask: There are Thors all around us

    by John Moore | Nov 22, 2016

    Stephen Trask photo by Bruce Gilkas
    Stephen Trask photo by Bruce Gilkas.

    Hedwig is an iconic fictional character divided by gender, born out of one divided nation and now living in another. Birthed from two creators who imagined a world where from its earliest form, love itself was violently divided by an angry and capricious god of lightning.

    Her two makers, Stephen Trask and John Cameron Mitchell, have been divided throughout their own lives by their own forms of otherness. Yet for the past 18 years, their cult-favorite rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch has told the rocking, wrenching and ultimately healing story of a woman seeking wholeness.

    Hedwig and the Angry Inch was born in a raucous gay New York nightclub called Squeezebox. It grew into a seminal off-Broadway production that ran for nearly three years before being made into an underground phenom movie. Finally, in 2014, Hedwig arrived tattered and triumphant on Broadway, where it won three Tony Awards including best revival. Now, as it embarks on its first tour of the American heartland, Trask sees the opportunity for a divided America to stop shouting and start singing … fist-pumping and full-throated.

    “I'd like to see a world where people don't have to spend as much mental energy dividing us all into categories of us vs. them or as a series of 'others,' ” Trask said on the eve of Hedwig’s arrival in Denver on Dec. 6. “ I hope people can come to understand that the categories we have grouped ourselves in are really just states of mind. I hope we all will be able to love each other more and share the planet better.”

    Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a rock concert, during which our heroine intermittently reveals the intimate details of her shocking life. Hedwig was born a boy in communist East Germany and underwent a brutal sex-change operation to marry an American soldier who takes her to Kansas and abandons her there. Now she travels the country following a young boy named Tommy Gnosis whom she believes has stolen her music, her fame and half of her soul. The origin of her emptiness – indeed of our universal human emptiness, she believes – is explained in the song "Origin of Love," which tells of the petty god Thor, who used lightning bolts to split prehistoric man in half, damning all descendants to an unending search for our "other half.”

    And in the wake of this bitterly fought election season, Trask sees plenty of Thors in our world who are creating divisions in every direction.

    “In the opening song, Hedwig comes out and she says very defiantly that she's right in the middle of all of these divides,” Trask said. “And it's not just gender divides. It's a lot of divides. But she tells us, ‘Hey, there ain't much of a difference between a bridge and a wall. And without me right in the middle, babe, you would be nothin' at all.’

    “What she means is, you can look at that thing that is dividing you, that wall, and say that's actually a connecting point. The thing that is dividing us is actually also what makes us have stuff in common. What's binding us is our common humanity. And if we tear down those mental constructs as much as possible, the whole world just opens up in a way that makes life better - not just for other people, but for yourself.”

    The video above shows John Cameron Mitchell singing 'Origin of Love' in the 2001 film version of 'Hedwig and the Angry Inch.'

    In advance of Hedwig’s arrival in Denver starting Dec. 6, Stephen Trask opened up for a wide-ranging conversation with DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore covering how he and John Cameron Mitchell first conceived the Hedwig character, how he approached writing the seminal song “Origin of Love,” and much more – including his blunt response to the blunt question, “Do you feel like you have gotten your share of the credit over the years?” Along the way, Trask references Barbra Steisand, Dr. Seuss, The Clash and The Justice League of America, among others. Here are excerpts from that conversation:

    John Moore: The Hedwig story really starts at Squeezebox, where you were the bandleader. What was going on in your life and in the world that made that the right time and place for Hedwig to be born?

    Stephen Trask: I was a gay singer-songwriter trying to disguise my softer side in punk-rock music and glam-rock music. I had a band, and I think people were interested in what we were doing because the songs were melodic and the music was fun and the lyrics had meaning. But people were pretty put off by the idea of an outwardly gay singer-songwriter, particularly one for whom it wasn't really a political thing. For me it was political to not be political. Sometimes I might write a song about an issue, but we were not political in the way that The Clash were political. Politics was not the point of our band, so there really wasn't much room for us in the music scene. I got to be friends with Pat Briggs, who was one of the co-founders of Squeezebox. We both bonded over the fact that there really wasn't much space in the rock world for gay people, and there wasn't really a space for rock music in the gay world. He and Michael Schmidt decided to start this club and asked me if I would be the bandleader of it. It had reached the point where enough people now wanted to see a drag queen singing a real rock song instead of lip-syncing to a Barbra Streisand song. Or who wanted to hear a DJ who was playing rock music of all eras and punk rock and new-wave. And it turned out that there were a lot of people who wanted this. Squeezebox was a hit from the moment it opened its doors. Every week we put on a different show with a drag queen. I was leading a four-piece rock band, and it was basically the same lineup that's in the Hedwig band. That was also my band outside of the club.   

    So at the same time, John and I were working on a new show. There was no female character in it yet, but we started inventing her together - and I emphasize 'her' because if this character were to be a woman, and John were playing her, then that would mean I could get us a gig at Squeezebox. Hedwig was partly drawn on somebody John knew, and partly drawn on my experiences as a frustrated musician, which is part of her story, too. We thought she was going to be a minor part of this show but we kept getting gigs. And so we slowly developed this original show.

    John Moore: So the idea for John to play this failed rock star was really yours?

    Stephen Trask quote Stephen Trask: Oh, yeah. That was my idea. We had a rock-star character in our story that was loosely based on John who later became Tommy Gnosis. But frankly, and no offense to John, but he wasn't really that interesting of a character. Now, I am sure if we really wanted to make the story about John, we could have made it very interesting, but it wasn't really a subject we were getting very far with. I had taken a class in biography in college, and they taught us how to interview people. So I got my notebook out and I started interviewing John. I thought we would find some biographical material that we can use. And sure enough, he started telling me about this babysitter he had as a kid. And I just said, "John, why don't we take her and make her into a failed rock musician who used to have a relationship with our central rock-star character. But he went on to become famous, and she is left singing in dives, and she is bitter about it, and that's what she talks about. I'll write “Wicked Little Town,” her song of bitterness over never getting out of the town. You'll write a monologue and you'll play the character. We'll get her a wig and we'll put her in Squeezebox." And so that's kind of how it happened. We just sort of invented her right there in the room.

    John Moore: I've gotten to interview John a couple of times and one of the most meaningful stories I ever got to write was an interview with his parents, who were living in Colorado Springs when the first production of Hedwig was being staged down there. So I knew John's father was the high-ranking general based in Berlin who stood behind Reagan when he called on Gorbachev to tear down the wall. Now all of those biographical details seem to equate John's life more directly to the character of Tommy than Hedwig.

    Stephen Trask: Right.

    Mitchell and Trask: The two halves of Hedwig's whole

    John Moore: And so that would make you the internationally ignored sing stylist?

    Stephen Trask: That part's me. Absolutely. The person looking for her other half? That's John. And the internationally ignored song stylist? That’s me. We just kind of mashed it together. She's an odd character. Her biography is a bit of a fairy tale, but we were able to make it feel human because we were able to both tell our own story without being self-indulgent. I can talk about being a bitter rock star. I'm not actually bitter, but when you are a struggling musician, you want to make it. You don't want to be singing in dives. I can relate.      

    John Moore: So do you feel like you have gotten your share of the credit for creating this character over the years?

    Stephen Trask: No. Not one bit. No, not at all.

    John Moore: So speaking of Hedwig as of two halves of a whole, I guess the fair way to say it is that Hedwig really is half of both of you.

    Stephen Trask: Yeah, very much so. Yeah.

    John Moore: Well speaking of that very thing, I want to take advantage of the opportunity to ask you about the origin of "Origin of Love." When I was a reporter at the Denver Post, I wrote a column called "The 10 Most Gut-Scraping Songs of the Aughts," and I put "Origin of Love" on the list. I cheated a little bit by citing the Rufus Wainwright cover, because that put me in the right decade, but I specifically called out the song for your line, “I was looking at you. You had a way so familiar, but I could not recognize. ’Cause you had blood on your face; I had blood in my eyes.” I just want to know what gave you the confidence that you could distill everything that is going on in that story into a pop song and communicate all of its depth and complexity in three minutes.

    Stephen Trask: I first heard of the story because John bought me that book, "Plato's Symposium." He said to me, 'Can you write a song about this?' I was very into ambitious narrative songwriting. I was also obsessed with Lou Reed at the time. He had that huge mythic song called "Last Great American Whale," but he had tons of other songs that were just as hugely ambitious. And there was the Townes Van Zandt song "Pancho & Lefty." Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard did a spectacular cover of that one. I had been trying in different ways to write songs that tried to cover a lot of subject matter. So when John gave me this story, I knew this was something I could really sink my teeth into. The big thing I knew I was always leading up to was telling the story as a myth and then turning it personal at the end. Doing the whole thing in a way where you set up this really fascinating story and then make it gut-wrenching. It started out with me figuring out that I could get in by describing it in a kind of Dr. Seuss language. I had this book called "Happy Birthday to You" when I was growing up, and there is this really strange world described in this book. The drawings were these really spectacularly strange creatures. So I thought, “Well, let's describe this world before humans were cut down into their current size when there were just these big, huge two-faced, eight-limbed beings, and how can I tell this story like Dr. Seuss?” Once I figured that out, it came out almost all at once. It was just:

    When the earth was still flat,
    And clouds made of fire.
    Mountains stretched up to the sky.
    Sometimes higher.

    It’s very sing-songy. You can even imagine where the pages of the book turn, and what the pictures would look like.
    Folks roamed the earth.
    Like big rolling kegs.
    They had two sets of arms.
    They had two sets of legs.

    I imagined it from the start as an animated children's book. I asked myself, 'So who else would the gods have thought were threatening that they would have cut down, like dinosaurs into lizards, and cut the legs off of whales? I just imagined these vengeful gods taking these giant rival creatures and cutting them down to size. I also imagined kind of like The Justice League of America where the gods of all the religions all had one clubhouse together. A place where Thor is like a member of the Justice League. Where creatures from different myths all occupy the same space. It just unfolded like that, just trying to be extremely visual so that I could imagine this picture book that people could listen to and follow along the whole way.

    John Moore: The idea that we all have predestined soulmates is somewhat refuted by my favorite song in the score, "Wicked Little Town." So I am wondering: Do you believe that we have predestined soulmates or are you more the "Wicked Little Town" kind of a guy?

    The film version of the 'Wicked Little Town' reprise.

    Stephen Trask: I am a more the "Wicked Little Town Reprise" kind of guy, actually. John is the one who was very into the 'other half' idea. He's the one who gave me the Plato. When the show was oriented around a character based on John's life, we did explore this idea of, 'Who is my other half?' But that kind of went away. And so when I wrote what Tommy says to Hedwig, it was also me writing to John, saying, 'I don't actually believe in this concept of the other half. I think it's more the love you create with the people around you and the relationships you create with the people around you, rather than searching for the person you are destined for.   

    John Moore: So what did it mean to you when the show finally got a chance to be seen on Broadway after so many years?

    Stephen Trask: It was life-changing. It definitely put the work out there in a bigger way. It's one thing to have people go, 'Oh, I love that show!' every so often. It's another thing to actually have a lot of people who have seen it. I assume some people don't like it, but for some people, it's clearly life-changing. I tend to gravitate toward the people for whom it is life-changing. When you are doing something like that, you are talking to people. You are trying to put out these ideas, and they aren't, 'Oh, I wish I were a rock star.' Instead it's a discussion about how we construct our world into a series of dualities, and how the lines can be blurred or erased depending on your perspective. The discussion about love and whether love is something that is destined, or whether it is something that you find and recognize and nurture in the way that Tommy also sings about Hedwig. The reprise in "Wicked Little Town" is inspired by the idea of found objects becoming art. It's not just love as something you find as opposed to are destined for, but I believe the world is the thing that we make of it, and it's not really our destiny so much as what we do with who and what we are presented. So you want to get into a discussion like that, and you certainly don't want to be shouting off into the dark. So Broadway brought all of that to a wider audience. When people actually respond to it, and it begins a conversation, and it either has a profound effect on people's lives, or it begins a discussion or an argument, it feels good to have been a part of that.

    I also want to say that we ran the Broadway show as a year-and-a-half-long fundraiser for the Harvey Milk School. We ended up giving them more than $600,000. We are their biggest donor ever. Bigger than car companies. And so, if you feel like you are trying to create some good in the world, then that certainly did it. 

    John Moore: Tell me about solving the specific problem of telling the story on Broadway when the whole idea of the story is based on Hedwig playing in dive bars and bowling alleys? I saw the show on Broadway, and you guys clearly had a lot of fun acknowledging that this really isn't a Broadway show. It's more a Broadway takeover.

    Stephen Trask: Yes, on Broadway, the idea was that Hedwig and company are squatting on the set of the disastrous fictional production of Hurt Locker the Musical, which closed after one performance the night before. And that particular conceit is one that you can only do in a Broadway house when the joke is that big. I mean there we have an entire joke set. You are literally going to a Broadway house and there is the set to an entirely different show. We also made Playbills for Hurt Locker the Musical and scattered them around the theatre as if they had been discarded by patrons who hated it as they left at intermission. There is no end to how much you can tell this joke. It all started when John was visiting my house in Kentucky where I live with my partner, and the two of us were trying to come up with a funny Broadway show title that had closed after one night. We were naming one after the other and my husband actually came up with Hurt Locker the Musical. We just cracked up so much that we knew it was the right one. So then I wrote a song for it, and it's not even necessarily a bad song. The concept is that it's the kind of song that a good writer would write if they agreed to be hired onto a project called Hurt Locker the Musical, and approached it sincerely. The problem isn't the song, per se. The whole idea is wrong, and that's why it was so fun. Everything about that was a blast.
    John Moore: So how do you do that on the road?

    Stephen Trask: We definitely loved the Hurt Locker concept, and the jokes work great, and we didn't want to lose it. So we thought, 'Well, the road is where Broadway shows are being developed.' So on the road, Hurt Locker is not a Broadway show. It's a pre-Broadway run like you would have in cities like Denver,  where the producers are hoping for it to go to Broadway. But it failed. So we found a different context to tell the same jokes.           

    John Moore: So even though Hurt Locker the Musical died on Broadway ... it lives on the road, in cities all across America.  

    Stephen Trask: It lives. It lives.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    John Moore: And what can you tell us about the new musical you are working on, This Ain’t No Disco!?

    Stephen Trask: I’ll tell you, it’s not really like anything that anyone has said about it so far, except that it vaguely relates to Studio 54. It's about young people who come to New York in the late 1970s and early 80s to find themselves and each other in the nightclub culture of the time. It takes place partly at Studio 54, partly at the Mudd Club, and also in artist spaces and on the streets of the city. What's interesting is the way that people in these cultures find themselves forming found families that are not biological or nuclear. I am writing it with Peter Yanowitz, who is the drummer in the Hedwig band. We developed the story with Rick Elice (Jersey Boys) but it's a sung-through musical, so there is no actual dialogue. The music is a mix of choral and gospel and punk and rock and disco and new-wave and soul and R&B. Rick came up with this great concept of Studio 54 as a church and (Studio 54 founder) Steve Rubell a street preacher.

    John Moore: In closing, now that you are this Broadway big-shot, do you think it might be time for you to embrace your birth name of Stephen Schwartz, and go ahead and let people confuse you with the Stephen Schwartz who wrote Godspell and Wicked

    Stephen Trask: I remember the first check I mistakenly got for writing "Defying Gravity." I said, “What the hell is this?” I didn't know the songs to Wicked, so I had no idea why I was getting it. And it was actually a really small check, unfortunately.

    John Moore: Did you have to give it back?

    Stephen Trask: I called him up and we compared things that he has gotten of mine, and things I have gotten of his, and it was within, like, $10. So we agreed if something big comes in, we'll tell the other person. But it's not worth it to call him up and say, "Hey, I got $3.87 for this.” And he's fine without it.

    John Moore: Final thoughts on Hedwig?

    Stephen Trask: It's going to knock your socks off, I can assure you.

    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.

    More to come from John Cameron Mitchell
    Look for John Moore’s expanded individual interview with John Cameron Mitchell coming soon to the DCPA NewsCenter

    Hedwig and the Angry Inch in Denver: Ticket information
    Hedwig and the Angry Inch Hedwig and the Angry Inch is the genre-bending, fourth-wall-smashing musical sensation, with a pulsing score and electrifying performances, that tells the story of one of the most unique characters to ever hit the stage.
    • Dec 6-11
    • Buell Theatre
    • ASL interpreted, Audio-described and Open Captioned performance: Dec. 10
    • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Groups: Call 303-446-4829 

    Previous NewsCenter coverage of Hedwig and the Angry Inch
    Mitchell and Trask: The two halves of Hedwig's whole
    Casting: Euan Morton to don Hedwig's wig on national tour
    Hedwig named to Denver Center's 2016-17 Broadway season
    Hedwig creator’s parents are tearing down a wall
  • Video: Exclusive interview with 'Wicked' composer Stephen Schwartz

    by John Moore | Jun 11, 2015

    In this exclusive interview with Wicked composer Stephen Schwartz for the DCPA's NewsCenter, the theatre legend talks with Senior Arts Journalist John Moore about the ongoing need to empower girls and women.

    Stephen Schwartz"Turn on the TV or go online, and there is story after story of the difficulties women and girls face just trying to be on an equal level in our world," says Schwartz. "Worldwide, this is a major issue." 

    Schwartz says he relates most to the character of Elphaba in Wicked, and embraces the idea that we all have the green girl inside of us. He also tells how Wicked never happens - or at least not Schwartz's involvement in it - without a nudge from the folk singer Holly Near.

    Schwartz also addresses Denver's place in Wicked lore as the production's most visited city in the world. 

    Video by David Lenk and John Moore. 

    Wicked: Show information
    June 3-July 5
    Buell Theatre
    Tickets: 303-893-4100, 800-641-1222 or  BUY ONLINE
    Accessibility performance: 2 p.m., June 27

    Our recent NewsCenter coverage of Wicked:
    Wicked witches stirring up an evening of cabaret on June 15
    Daily Wicked lottery makes $25 tickets available to lucky winners
    Video, photos: Wicked arrives in Denver: Load-In Day
    Interview with the two stars on the show's 'Popular' appeal
    Wicked a show for the green girl in all of us
    Wicked has bonded mothers and daughters for a decade in Denver
    Stephen Schwartz
  • The 'Pippin' Profiles: Kristine Reese on keeping up with the Jones

    by John Moore | Sep 10, 2014


    For many audience members, Catherine (played by Kristine Reese), walks away with the show, even though she doesn’t even show up in the story until the second act. Photo by Terry Shapiro. Photo below by Peter Hurley Photography.

    Pippin_Kristine_Reese_4Kristine Reese went to see the Broadway revival of Pippin and, like pretty much everyone else in the audience …  she fell in love with Rachel Bay Jones.

    Jones was nominated for a Tony Award for her performance as Catherine, the quirky widowed mother   who awaits young prince Pippin at the end of his quest to find meaning in his life like a curvaceous, open-armed human grail. 

    She was, by composer Stephen Schwartz’s assessment, nothing short of “amazing,” “heartbreaking” and “transformative.”

    Boy. And you thought Sasha Allen had a tough task trying to follow in the magic footsteps of Ben Vereen in the role of the Leading Player.

    Reese has been cast to play Catherine in the national touring production of Pippin now launching in Denver. She is doing her best to keep up with the Jones … by not trying to keep up with the Jones.

    “Obviously, what Rachel has done with the role is really amazing, and I think she has made it really special,” said Reese. “But whenever you take on a role (that you didn’t originate), you have to be true to who you are. I want to honor what Rachel did, but I also want to be me.”

    Reese must be doing something right. Schwartz’s first impression of Reese: “I have to tell you that we have found a really wonderful young woman to play Catherine on the tour who brings a lot of the same qualities that Rachel brought to the role," Schwartz  said. "I am really enthusiastic about our new Catherine.”

    How great is it to hear that?

    “That makes me want to actually cry with happiness,” Reese said. “That means so much to me. All I've ever wanted is for Stephen and (Director) Diane Paulus and everyone involved with the show to be enthusiastic about what I bring to the role. To have him say that is really amazing, so, thank you. You made my day.”

    Reese hails from the Midwest and graduated from the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati. She’s played Nessarose on the national touring production of Wicked and Sophie in Mamma Mia.


    Here are excerpts from our conversation with Reese, who plays a character many audiences think walks away with the show, even though she doesn’t even show up in the story until the second act:

    John Moore: So I have seen Pippin many times and in many shapes and sizes …  and I have to say, I think Catherine is almost always my favorite character.

    Kristine Reese: Yeah, a lot of people say that, actually. A lot of people.

    John Moore: How do you see this woman’s place in the story?

    Kristine Reese: She is genuine and she is pure and she is natural. And yes, she’s got a quirk to her -- especially in this production -- and I think I do as a person, too. When you play Catherine, I think you have to find that quirk inside you, because that's part of why Pippin falls in love with her. And I think that is actually the essence of who Catherine is. Even though she says in her song, ‘I'm just a plain, ordinary girl …’ she’s actually not. I think that's the point of all that silliness for the actor (who gets to plays her). She’s so special and so different, and she's not coloring in the lines like almost every other character in the play.

    John Moore: I know we can't tell people specifically about the new ending in this version of Pippin, but your character is certainly a key part in it. I think if you’ve ever seen the original Pippin, it's possible to misconstrue what the writers are actually trying to say about Pippin's ultimate choice -- in my opinion. I talked to Diane and (Circus Creator) Gypsy Snider about this, and part of their point, as mothers themselves, is to say that society needs to look again at how we perceive a young man who, after a life of pure adventure, sees marriage and fatherhood as an extraordinary life choice. … Which actually doesn't even give anything away about the new ending, I am happy to say! What's your take?

    Kristine Reese: I think that's a great way of saying it. I got married a couple of years ago, and I wasn't all that young when I did. But people would say to me, 'Why are you settling down?' No. I don't see it that way. When you live in New York and you work as a performer, some people see marriage as being tied down or restricting you -- and I  think it's the opposite. When I saw Pippin the first time, I think that's why the Catherine character resonated with me. It’s because of the connection she has with Pippin, and because of the choice he makes. I can relate so much of that to my real life, and how much my relationship means to me. I don't have children yet, but when I do, I would imagine the same thing for myself. That's the life I want.

    John Moore: What I like about the new ending is that it really takes the focus off of our looking at Pippin's choice as the ultimate point of the show and shifts it ... shall we say ... onto something different for us to chew on.

    Kristine Reese: Absolutely.

    John Moore: But I think it makes sense to acknowledge how family has changed as in institution in this country over past 40 years. When you look at all of our social problems, there is something kind of odd about a man who chooses family being seen as a bold choice.

    Kristine Reese: It is very interesting. You wouldn't think that would be a controversial thing still. But it is.


    John Moore: OK, so here is your really hard-hitting, important question: What do you do for the whole first act while waiting for Catherine to enter the story?

    Kristine Reese: Actually, I am a Player in the circus troupe, and not actually Catherine. So in the first act, I am playing a silent clown. And in the second act, my job is to play Catherine in the story of Pippin that we are putting on for the audience. You may not really notice me in the first act, or know, 'Oh, she’s going to be Catherine' -- but I think that's the point.

    John Moore: We think of Pippin as this quintessential coming-of-age story about a boy becoming a man. But I see so much female empowerment going on with this production. What it's like for you to be in the room with all of these strong women?

    Kristine Reese: I am so glad that you asked me that, because that is really important to me. Like you said, Diane is a mom, and Gypsy is a mom, and Nadia DiGiallonardo, who is our music supervisor, is a mom, as are many others. I am not a mother myself, but I think that is a really special thing to have around you. I remember when Diane won the Tony Award (for best direction), and how much that meant to me as a female watching. Here was this woman up there who has this great career, but she also has children and a family. That means so much to me. And it means so much to her. I have really wanted to work with her. Not to take away from (Choreographer Chet Walker) or anyone else on the team, but I think there is something about being able to speak with a woman director about motherhood and love and family, and what those things mean. Not to say that if I had a male director the show would not be good, but I think the connection that women share is special, and I am so honored to be working with these respectful, strong women who have children and have love in their lives. They understand what my relationship means to me, and how I can use that as an actor.


    John Moore: Many who see Pippin in Denver will be seeing it for the first time. And for those who have seen it before, it will in many ways be new for them as well. Help me to articulate what kind of a theatrical experience they are in for.

    Kristine Reese: The story is told through the circus lens, and you haven't really seen a lot of Broadway shows that have that aspect to it. I think what makes it so magical is the excitement that the circus element brings to it, contrasted with these really intimate, grounded, emotional scenes. For all the spectacular, dangerous things these performers do in these beautiful, sparkling costumes, you also have these almost naked acting moments. This show has everything. And that's why I fell in love with it when I first saw it. It was so special when they sang Simple Joys and they started jumping through hoops. But then to see this beautiful connection between these two actors playing Pippin and Catherine, I thought, 'That's really what this play is about.' I think people can take both of those things away from it. 

    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.

    'The Pippin Profiles' interview series:

    : Ticket information

    Sep 6-20, 2014 • Buell Theatre
    Accessible Performances • Sep 20, 2pm
    Tickets: 303.893.4100 • Toll-free: 800.641.1222 • TTY: 303.893.9582
    Groups (10+) • 303.446.4829
    Online • www.DenverCenter.Org

    Our previous Pippin coverage on MyDenverCenter.Org:

    Video series: The 'Pippin' Personalities: Five questions with creatives
    'Pippin' meets Denver: Media Day photos

    Broadway's Matthew James Thomas to play Pippin in Denver
    Hello, Denver! 'Pippin' cast and crew arrive

    Photos: Pippin loading in Denver, rehearsing in New York

    My three Pippins gather at Sardi's to honor John Rubinstein
    Photos: Exclusive look at first 'Pippin' rehearsal
    Lucie Arnaz joins Denver-bound ‘Pippin’ as Berthe

    From Pippin to Pappa: Denver tour launch will feature John Rubinstein
    2014-15 season: ‘Pippin,’ ‘Kinky Boots’ are Denver-bound!

  • The 'Pippin' Profiles: Diane Paulus on directing without a net

    by John Moore | Aug 22, 2014

    Diane_Paulus_Pippin_400Director 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.


    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 Pippin headspace, 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 All with 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.’


    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.’


    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 worshipped 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.


    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 for Pippin. 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.

    'The Pippin Profiles':  

    Pippin: Ticket information

    Sept 6-20, 2014 • Buell Theatre
    Accessible Performances • Sep 20, 2pm
    Tickets: 303.893.4100 • Toll-free: 800.641.1222 • TTY: 303.893.9582
    Groups (10+) • 303.446.4829
    Online • www.DenverCenter.Org

    Previous Pippin coverage on MyDenverCenter.Org:

    Photos: Pippin loading in Denver, rehearsing in New York
    My three Pippins gather at Sardi's to honor John Rubinstein

    Photos: Exclusive look at first 'Pippin' rehearsal
    Lucie Arnaz joins Denver-bound ‘Pippin’ as Berthe

    From Pippin to Pappa: Denver tour launch will feature John Rubinstein
    2014-15 season: ‘Pippin,’ ‘Kinky Boots’ are Denver-bound!

  • The 'Pippin' Profiles: How Stephen Schwartz ran off with the circus

    by John Moore | Aug 19, 2014

    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 reimagined Pippin won the Tony Award for Best Musical Revival, and its new national touring production is 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 would be 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 you are really looking at a retrospective of Fosse's life. And then you have the ‘Corner of the Sky” Pippin, the loving family man. That was absolutely the Stephen Schwartz 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.


    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 last year very bravely resisted censorship on their production of Rent. And The Dramatists 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.


    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 Godspell 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.


    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 these changes 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.


    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 thinking that it felt like this was a signature work for its time – which was the 1970s, and already had passed. 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_Stephen_Schwartz_Quote_4John 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.

    Stephen Schwartz: Major works

    • Butterflies are Free, 1969
    • Godspell, 1971
    • Mass 1971
    • Pippin, 1972
    • The Magic Show, 1974
    • The Baker’s Wife ,1976
    • The Perfect Peach (children’s book), 1977
    • Working ,1978
    • Personals, 1985
    • Captain Louie (children’s show), 1986
    • Rags, 1986
    • Children of Eden, 1991
    • Pocahontas, 1995
    • The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1996
    • Reluctant Pilgrim (CD of 11 songs), 1997
    • The Prince of Egypt, 1998
    • Geppetto 2000 (re-named My Son Pinocchio)
    • Uncharted Territory (CD of 11 songs), 2001
    • Wicked, 2003
    • Mit Eventyr/My Fairytale, 2005
    • Séance on a Wet Afternoon, 2009


    'The Pippin Profiles':  

    • Circus Creator Gyspy Snyder
    • Choreographer Chet Walker
    • Composer Stephen Schwartz (today)
    • Director Diane Paulus (coming next)
    • Actor John Rubinstein (Charlemagne)
    • Actor Kyle Selig (Pippin)
    • Actor Sasha Allen (Leading PLayer)
    • Actor Luci Arnaz (Berthe)
    • Actor Sabrina Harper (Fastrada)
    • Actor Kristine Reese (Catherine)

    Pippin: Ticket information

    Sept 6-20, 2014 • Buell Theatre
    Accessible Performances • Sep 20, 2pm
    Tickets: 303.893.4100 • Toll-free: 800.641.1222 • TTY: 303.893.9582
    Groups (10+) • 303.446.4829
    Online • www.DenverCenter.Org

    Previous Pippin coverage on MyDenverCenter.Org:

    My three Pippins gather at Sardi's to honor John Rubinstein
    Photos: Exclusive look at first 'Pippin' rehearsal
    Lucie Arnaz joins Denver-bound ‘Pippin’ as Berthe

    From Pippin to Pappa: Denver tour launch will feature John Rubinstein
    2014-15 season: ‘Pippin,’ ‘Kinky Boots’ are Denver-bound!

  • 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. 


    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. First up: Circus Creator 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.

    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.

    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.


    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. 

    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.

    Coming up on the Pippin Profiles:  

    • Choreographer Chet Walker
    • Director Diane Paulus
    • Composer Stephen Schwartz
    • Plus ... select members of the acting company


    Pippin: Ticket information

    Sept 6-20, 2014 • Buell Theatre
    Accessible Performances • Sep 20, 2pm
    Tickets: 303.893.4100 • Toll-free: 800.641.1222 • TTY: 303.893.9582
    Groups (10+) • 303.446.4829
    Online • www.DenverCenter.Org


    Previous "Pippin" coverage on MyDenverCenter.Org:

    My three Pippins gather at Sardi's to honor John Rubinstein
    Photos: Exclusive look at first 'Pippin' rehearsal
    Lucie Arnaz joins Denver-bound ‘Pippin’ as Berthe

    From Pippin to Pappa: Denver tour launch will feature John Rubinstein
    2014-15 season: ‘Pippin,’ ‘Kinky Boots’ are Denver-bound!

  • Broadway wins over a "Pippin" pessimist

    by John Moore | Oct 11, 2013

    As a former Denver Post theatre critic in the Google age, you can't run, and you can't hide, from your own words. In most cases, I don't want to.

    When it was annnounced that "Pippin" will launch its national tour in Denver in September 2014, I was immediately reminded of my admittedly cranky review of the 2006 Arvada Center production, headlined, "Pippin bares an ick factor."

    My lead from that review:

    "The sexually liberated 1972 musical "Pippin" seeks to open your imagination. But when it opened at the Arvada Center with 20 dancers of varying sizes and ages peeling their cloaks and masks to reveal skin-tight, one-piece white unitards, I was begging, "Oh please no - leave something to the imagination."

    Hahaha, the good old days. Here's more:

    "With its Bob Fosse flash and 'it's all about me!' score, 'Pippin' is the (thankfully) dated embodiment of the unapologetic excess and self-absorption that defined 1970s musical theater. Go figure: It’s also one of the most popular titles in history, which is why the Arvada Center is bringing it back to life in all its gratuitous glory. The result is incongruously warm and fuzzy -- and kind of icky too."

    I completely own those words. And now, "Pippin" is back on Broadway. And coming to Denver (presumably, for my cold, coal heart).

    But can they possibly ... "un-ickify" that musical, I openly wondered, by September 2014? There's not enough time, I tell you! There's not enough time!!

    " 'Pippin' is the musical that dares to ask: Did princes really have identity crises in A.D. 780? The son of Charlemagne finds no fulfillment in his dalliances with orgies, war, religion, domesticity or even absolute power. So what's a fellow to do? The authors' answer - settling - is itself unsettling."

    (You can read the whole thing here)

    Life is funny ... and life now has me working for the Denver Center as an in-house journalist. This week, life has me in New York at a social media boot camp. So with the Denver Center launching the "Pippin" tour next year, we thought we should see the show that earned the 2013 Tony Award for best revival. So we went.

    So what did I think? Here goes:

    Yes, the Broadway revival of "Pippin" has miraculously excised the "ick factor" from a show you (like me!) may remember as overly indulgent, orgiastic & self-obsessed. Every line isn't delivered with a lick and a leg grind. This circus-themed re-imagining is muscular, gymnastic, acrobatic and both lovably self-deprecating and charmingly self-referential. Plus, it has the seriously most fetching Catherine you can imagine. (Her name is Rachel Bay Jones.) 

    I EVEN LIKED IT! And not just because Denver will launch the tour -- which should actually benefit (for once) from moving into an expanded venue like the Buell. The cramped, little Music Box Theatre in NYC is actually too small for a show that's clearly wanting to go really, really big.

    In my Denver Post days, I often and openly wrote of my love for musicals like "Godspell" (also written by Stephen Schwartz) -- with the flatly stated caveat that no one over the age of 18 should ever be allowed to perform in them. These are coming-of-age stories that should only be performed by youngsters on the cusp of adulthood themselves.

    But this Broadway cast, led by the charming Matthew James Thomas in the title role, manages to make a '70s time capsule like "Pippin" feel timeless again. 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. 


    Rachel Bay Jones and Matthew James Thomas of Broadway's "Pippin." Photo by Joan Marcus.

John Moore
John Moore
Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has recently taken a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

DCPA is the nation’s largest not-for-profit theatre organization dedicated to creating unforgettable shared experiences through beloved Broadway musicals, world-class plays, educational programs and inspired events. We think of theatre as a spark of life — a special occasion that’s exciting, powerful and fun. Join us today and we promise an experience you won't soon forget.