The 'Pippin' Profiles: Kristine Reese on keeping up with the Jones

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:
 


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:

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!

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