“I dance, I sing, I tumble, and I smile a lot. Currently touring the country with ‘Pippin the Musical.’ Living the dream!”
That’s how Callan Bergmann describes himself on his Instagram profile … and truer words were never spoken.
Bergmann is playing Lewis, the boy who would be king — if only his nasty mother, Fastrada, had her way. But half-brother prince Pippin stands in both their ways, so the dim-witted soldier is pretty much relegated to daddy’s battles and mama’s knee.
And Bergmann couldn’t be having more fun. When Director Diane Paulus and Circus Creator Gypsy Snider decided to tell the story of Pippin in the context of a traveling circus, they pretty much turned Lewis into a part that Bergmann was born to play.
“I was in a gymnastics class when I was 4 years old, and my teacher told me then, ‘You should be stretching every day; every chance that you get,’ ” Bergmann said from Denver, where the new revival of the 2013 Tony-winning best musical launched its national tour last week.
“She told me to stretch whenever I was watching TV at night. Instead of sitting on the couch, she told me to sit on the floor and stretch and do my straddles and my splits. So that’s what I did.”
Bergmann, whose credits include Cinderella on Broadway and Smash on TV, grew up in the Buffalo (N.Y.) area and attended Point Park University in Pittsburgh. He spoke with Denver CenterStage two days after Pippin had its opening night in Denver.
John Moore: So I imagine you must be pretty beat right now.
Callan Bergmann: Yes. It was a long tech process, as they always are. But now that that’s all over, it’s nice to be able to breathe a little bit. But what am I saying? We start understudy rehearsals today. So no rest … yet.
John Moore: When you get through that – then what are you going to do with all of your free time?
Callan Bergmann: I have toured before, and what I like to do in each city is get out and do something that’s related to the city I’m in. On our last day off, I went out to Red Rocks Amphitheatre and went hiking. That was awesome. I am hoping to make it to a few of the museums here in Denver. I like to take tours of state capitols.
John Moore: What did you think of Red Rocks?
Callan Bergmann: Oh, it was breathtaking. Beautiful. It was fun to get out there and just take in all that fresh air.
John Moore: So you came to Pippin directly from performing on Broadway in Cinderella. But many of your Pippin castmates had direct experience with the Broadway production. So what was it like for you to step into this incredible new world completely fresh?
Callan Bergmann: All the Broadway people really helped us jump into that world faster. We only had four or five weeks to learn the show, and so having those people there, like John Rubinstein and Sabrina Harper, was great. They just took everyone under their wings and helped us to really dive into the material faster.
John Moore: What appealed to you most about going after this opportunity in Pippin?
Callan Bergmann: I saw Pippin on Broadway when it was in previews, and I loved it. I thought it was so amazing. What really appealed to me was the circus aspect of the show. I grew up as a gymnast, so I like to flip around and do all that fun stuff. I have always had this dream of running away and joining the circus. So when I was cast in Pippin, I was so excited. I said, ‘I want to learn every circus skill in the show.’ That’s my goal. The creative team has been so wonderful because they have kind of catered the part around me, and have even changed it a little bit so that I get to show off some of what I do. I get to dance. I get to tumble. I get to sing. I get to act. It’s the best of every world.
John Moore: So what all have you learned so far? Are you juggling knives?
Callan Bergmann: No, but I do tumble through knives being juggled.
John Moore: I think that is even more impressive.
Callan Bergmann: One day in rehearsal, Gypsy (Snider) grabbed me and said, ‘We are going to add you into this part. You are going to be tumbling through the knives that are being juggled.’ I just stopped and was like, ‘Um, Gypsy? I know I said that I wanted to tumble in the show … but I didn’t say I want to tumble through knives!’
John Moore: And what was her response?
Callan Bergmann: She said, ‘Oh, it will be fine, it will be fine. We’re going to practice.’
John Moore: Well, I should hope so.
Callan Bergmann: She’s so great, and she is so safe. You go step by step. You start by running through the knives, and you learn what to look for. And then you start doing a cartwheel through the knives. And then you start doing your whole tumble pass-through. So that was fun. I also play on the Chinese poles a little bit. I jump onto one from what we call ‘the chute.’ Honestly, from the audience, it doesn’t look very scary. But when you’re up there, and there is a gap between you and this pole? It’s a little bit scary.
John Moore: That gap is real.
Callan Bergmann: That gap is real.
That’s Callan Bergmann as Lewis, far right. Photo by Terry Shapiro.
John Moore: That must be fun just messing around backstage with all those circus professionals.
Callan Bergmann: Oh, yeah. I’ve already started working with some of the acrobats on hand-balancing. Nothing major. It really just starts with practicing handstands. You have to start by getting so good at doing handstands on the hard ground. But they can literally hold a handstand for 10 minutes. There is a technique to it, and they have been helping me out with that. They are so nice.
John Moore: I noticed that on your resume, you list your special skills as ‘basic contortion, stunt doubling … and driving a stick shift.’ I wonder: Which of those three should we be most impressed with?
Callan Bergmann: That’s funny. Driving a stick shift is definitely a dying skill.
John Moore: I’m surprised Gypsy didn’t work that into the show.
Callan Bergmann: Me, too.
John Moore: So let’s talk about contortion.
Callan Bergmann: I think I’m just more flexible than the average person. But I’m not as crazy as some of the people in our show, though.
John Moore: Before you saw the Broadway performance of Pippin, had you ever been involved with a previous production of Pippin?
Callan Bergmann: No, I had not. But I saw Pippin at a local school when I was in high school.
John Moore: What did you think of it then?
Callan Bergmann: It was actually a very good production, and I loved the show. The part of Pippin has been on my radar ever since. Just getting the chance to play Lewis and understudy Pippin now is so exciting for me.
John Moore: But Pippin is now a 42-year-old musical. Why you think it feels contemporary for your generation of friends who might be seeing it for the first time in 2014?
Callan Bergmann: What I like about this show is that it’s really simple when you think about it. Yes, there is all this stuff going on, like all those great acrobatics. But really this show follows Pippin on his journey to find himself. It comes down this: All of our lives are extraordinary, even doing everyday, normal things like falling in love and choosing to lead a small-town life. I think that’s good for people to know. Be content with the life you choose. The journey that you are on is where you are meant to be.
John Moore: So do you find that the show resonates with your friends who are seeing it for the first time?
Callan Bergmann: It does, and I think that shows how timeless the piece is. Life now is really just the same as it was back in 1972, and just as it was hundreds of years ago. We’ve just added some modern technology.
John Moore: That modern technology here is really just human skill and physical prowess.
Callan Bergmann: But what I love is that the acrobats are not just up there doing circus acts. They are acting and performing just like the rest of us.
John Moore: So after all this time learning the show; building trust with your castmates; refining your timing and precision, what was it like for you to be up on that Buell Theatre stage for your opening-night curtain call knowing that that you all had just pretty much nailed it?
Callan Bergmann: Oh it was thrilling. The energy was so exciting. We have spent the past six weeks finessing things and getting it ready — but it‘s not over. This really is a never-ending process, because we have to keep up with safety and with all of these skills. This show is not something that you can just settle into, ever.
John Moore: So you are going to have audiences come who have a deep and abiding affection for Pippin going back to the beginning. But I suspect most people who come — especially young people — will be seeing it for the first time. How do describe to them what kind of theatre experience they are in for?
Callan Bergmann: It’s a theatre experience like they have never had before. Maybe they have seen a Cirque du Soleil show, or maybe they have seen a Broadway show. But this combines everything. And that’s why I think it’s so memorable.
John Moore: Well, you said you wanted to run off with the circus, and you pretty much have. Because you are going to blink and you will be folding up the tent in Denver and you will be off to another city.
Callan Bergmann: It’s true. I am living my dream.
‘The Pippin Profiles’ interview series:
- Circus Creator Gyspy Snider
- Choreographer Chet Walker
- Composer Stephen Schwartz
- Director Diane Paulus
- Actor Luci Arnaz (Berthe)
- Actor John Rubinstein (Charlemagne)
- Actor Sasha Allen (Leading Player)
- Actor Sabrina Harper (Fastrada)
- Actor Kristine Reese (Catherine)
- Candy Brown (original Broadway cast member)
- Callan Bergmann (Lewis, today)
- Matthew James Thomas (Pippin)
Pippin: 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:
Photos, video: Opening-night festivities in Denver
Video: 5 questions for Composer Stephen Schwartz
9News anchor Cheryl Preheim has a walk-on cameo on Sept. 16
Video: Audience testimonials reacting to seeing the show
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!