BWW Reviews: A.R.T. PIPPIN Talkback Coverage
At ART, a series of talkbacks between cast members and the audience was scheduled to be held on four dates after Saturday and Wednesday matinees. On Wednesday, January 9, after an early (noon) matinee, around a dozen cast members attended a 3:00 p.m. talkback, with the surprise presence of Pippin director Diane Paulus, who also addressed questions from the audience and shared opinions of her own. Much of the talk surrounded cast members' knowledge of the show prior to coming to it, and, not surprisingly, much also revolved around the planned transfer to Broadway at the Music Box Theatre, with previews opening on March 25.
Orion Griffiths, whose circus performances in the show had astounded the audience, revealed that he had come to the show with no knowledge of it. What he did know was circus stunts, and after a number of such had been written into the show. he offered a balancing act that he had already known how to perform. It was that act that had delighted the audience during the immediately preceding performance. Viktoria Grimmy, also a circus performer, agreed that she had also had little knowledge of the show before being called upon by Gypsy Snider of Montreal's Les 7 doights de la main (7 Fingers), who created the circus for the production. "It really is a brand new story every day," Grimmy says of the show. Several cast members noted that people who had heard they were going to be in Pippin had been excited for them -- but that they either didn't know or didn't remember anything about the story.
Tony-nominated Patina Miller, who stars as Leading Player, revealed that she had never bothered to notice Pippin prior to her involvement in the current production. "The Leading Player was a man. I knew there was no part for me in it, so I never paid any attention to it." Then she looked into Paulus' production. "It's been amazing."
Other performers added that the combination of the show itself and the circus performance worked into the show made the production particularly exciting for them, and according to performer Anthony Wayne. "We're here because we love it. This is always fresh because it's our passion."
Audience members commented that the new production is very different to the one that many remembered seeing in its first Broadway incarnation. Some lyrics have been changed, and according to one member of the audience, "It's so different seeing this in color, not as a black-and-white show." The circus metaphor incorporated by Paulus has turned the sets and costumes into a riot of colors and patterns very different from the original black costumes used in the original Bob Fosse production. Some other audience members described the original as "cheesy, schmaltzy '70's" that they did not feel had aged well as it had originally been produced. Cast member Stephanie Pope suggested that many of the licensed productions of Pippin have in fact been "cheesy", with "too much razzmatazz, poor choreography."
Questions from the audience also addressed the fact that the day's performance time had been adjusted because of the presence of a very large school group, and inquired whether other adjustments had been made to reduce the amount of potentially adult content in the show, particularly in the "The Flesh" scene. The cast and Paulus agreed that no effort had been made to alter the show's content to accommodate an audience with a high under-18 attendance. Students present in the audience expressed in response that they hadn't been disturbed by the content; rather, they had been impressed to see the way the scene had been staged and that they understood that what they were seeing was art and not reality.
Paulus addressed the challenges of merging circus and circus performers with musical theatre and with musical theatre performers. "It was amazing that everyone wanted to learn crossover skills. There were circus performers who wanted vocal lessons, actors who wanted circus training." The issues became "how does acrobatics serve the dance? How does dance serve the acrobatics? As a whole, they are something greater as a company." In discussing the performers' interaction with the audience, and with the audience responses to the circus performers, which are very much the way they would respond at a regular circus, "What I love about this show is that it breaks the fourth wall. Your presence makes the show happen."
Paulus addressed the issues of transferring the show to Broadway, noting that, among other concerns, the stage at the Music Box Theatre is smaller than that of ART. She also felt that the show is currently not finished, right down to "jewels that still haven't been put on costumes." The great thing, to her, about the move is that "we get a chance to continue working on it. A show is great when it feels like it's never done. The process [of the transfer] is wonderful and it gives us more time." She added, however, that "at a point in a process you have to quit dreaming and you have to get real, especially with such a physical show.
In answer to questions from the audience, Paulus also indicated that the entire current cast will be transferring to Broadway with the show, and that "layers of detail will continue to deepen the performance." She was not clear as to whether the current musicians are remaining with the production.
Speaking with Broadway World after the talkback, Paulus added, "We're totally excited about getting the chance to do this. There's a whole generation that doesn't know the show." She was also concerned that many people who believe they know the show have only seen school or community productions of the licensed version which has significant differences from the original Broadway version and therefore do not really know the show. Paulus indicated to Broadway World that she is looking forward to the challenges presented by the move and anticipates that the production will be fully ready for the previews beginning at the end of March.