BWW Interview: The Circus Comes to Town! PIPPIN's Holland Vavra and Thomas Williams Take Us Under the Big Top
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages - the greatest show on Earth is about to descend on Miller Outdoor Theatre, and it's free: Theatre Under The Stars' circus-inspired production of PIPPIN. The Tony Award-winning musical will feature a completely Houston-based creative team and cast, led by Holland Vavra as the Leading Player and Thomas Williams as Pippin.
Vavra, who you'll probably recognize from her work at Stages Repertory Theatre, and Williams, who recently took the TUTS stage in HEATHERS, joined Broadway World to talk all things PIPPIN.
So, what was your familiarity with PIPPIN before you were cast?
Holland Vavra: Funny, actually. There are several things with this show, but one I very vaguely remember (and Mom and Dad remind me of this) is actually putting myself in a production my Mom directed when I was very, very young. I found a blue dress and shoes and just decided I needed to be in the finale without letting anyone know first. It was a gut instinct that I ran with, you could say. But other than that, the music has been in my life for as long as I can remember.
Thomas Williams: I was introduced to the show when my parents saw the revival while in New York and my father, being the very supportive man he is, quickly told me I needed to do the role someday. This made me a little curious and I did my research and loved the vocal track of Pippin, and spent a time listening over and over to "Corner of The Sky" and "Morning Glow" and practicing them in the car on trips to auditions and school and whatnot. Then, while doing my research in college learned all about the career and life of Bob Fosse, and did my musical theatre history final over him. So, I was pretty familiar with this show and eager to try to be a part of a production.
Thomas, you mention Bob Fosse, and Fosse's choreography and Stephen Schwartz's music tend to overshadow the story of PIPPIN, which itself certainly explores some deep themes. How would you describe the story of PIPPIN?
Thomas Williams: The story of PIPPIN is the traditional coming-of-age story. Pippin is at the crucial age of finding who he is and what life is about. He explores the different flavors of experience life has to offer throughout the show. I believe that Schwartz actually does a great job of capturing these feelings he goes through and flavors. And Fosse, of course, does what he does best and inserts the fantastic style that people love to watch, and adds flair to the story.
And how would you describe Pippin? What makes him relatable?
Thomas Williams: We all are in search for meaning, and reason for ourselves and lives. We can relate to his struggle of what and why. Also being at the young age that he is, his excitement is so much of how we feel or have felt in our lives.
Holland, the Leading Player guides the audience (and Pippin) on a journey through the show, but she also experiences a huge emotional arc. How would you describe the Leading Player's journey?
Holland Vavra: That's interesting. The troupe and the Players have, as we know been doing this - maybe hundreds of times with one variable, being the person playing Pippin - yet, in this specific moment, this Pippin takes the reigns at the end and things start to spiral for the Leading Player who's likely never had this happen till now. The level of power over personal choice has shifted.
Diane Paulus [the director of the Tony Award-winning PIPPIN revival] said Stephen Schwartz told her the Leading Player "has to represent everything Pippin has not experienced in life." How do you see the Leading Player and what she represents?
Holland Vavra: I love knowing that he said that, that's fantastic! Thank you! And yes, I'd agreed vehemently with his statement regarding Pippin's experiences. To expound on that, I think another layer is the fact that an iconic role can and has been played with either a man or a woman which adds both a unique undertone depending on the casting. It changes different nuances with the relationship between Pippin and the Leading Player.
PIPPIN is one of Broadway's longest-running shows. What do you think it is about this show that's still resonating with audiences?
Holland Vavra: The music! This music is timeless. I don't think I've met a person yet who's said anything other than how much they love it or grew up with it. It's also a truly great (albeit, sometimes bizarre), original musical that's stood the test of time even in the rise of spectacle within mainstream musical theatre. I also think Ben Vereen is and will always be synonymous with the show and that's what will continue to keep it great.
Thomas Williams: The music is incredible. Singing is my passion, and when the music is so great and pushes the story along, that is beautiful musical theatre. That is what people want to see. A great story with great music. Then on top of that we have one of the most influential styles of dance and choreographers to propel that story. It is the perfect example of American musical theatre. Storytelling, music, and dance.
PIPPIN opens July 11 and runs through July 16 at Miller Outdoor Theatre, 6000 Hermann Park. For more information, please visit tuts.com or milleroutdoortheatre.com. (And remember, it's free!)