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BWW Interview: Tito Hernandez Channels Inner Fosse for North Carolina Theatre's PIPPIN

BWW Interview: Tito Hernandez Channels Inner Fosse for North Carolina Theatre's PIPPIN
Students at The North Carolina Theatre Conservatory
receive circus training from Raleigh's Imagine Circus.

PIPPIN is the story of a young prince trying to find the meaning of life. Pippin's struggle to find out where he fits into the world is not unlike the 38 middle school and high school students performing in North Carolina Theatre Conservatory's production, which opens July 6th at the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in Downtown Raleigh. The students are part of the conservatory's Master Summer Theatre Arts School (STAS), one of the flagship pre-professional training programs of North Carolina Theatre.

"The kids are training more since we are becoming more of that springboard for them to go to the next level," says director Tito Hernandez, who has taught at the conservatory for 18 years. "I think in the past, some of the people were just dabbling in it here or there, but I think these kids are full emergent."

Hernandez first saw PIPPIN after it opened on Broadway in 1972, under the direction of Bob Fosse. But he says, this production is closer to the 2013 Tony Award-winning revival, including the circus choreography, acrobatics, and extended ending.

"We'll have the circus effects, but I have to be true to that Bob Fosse choreography, that feel," says Hernandez. "So, it's going to have the heart and the soul of the original production with a lot of acrobatic stuff."

And Hernandez, a dance veteran himself having made his Broadway debut in JEROME ROBBINS' BROADWAY, is no stranger to Fosse's artistry. In fact, he participated in a tribute event to Fosse before the legendary choreographer passed away and had the opportunity to meet him, work with his associates, and perform his choreography.

"We were just starting with hip-hop back then and breakdancing, and all of a sudden I was introduced to this different style that I never even knew kind of existed, and it was Bob Fosse style," says Hernandez. "It's not like ballet, it's very hip and very stylized and precise."

And it's fusing together the dance and acrobatic elements of PIPPIN that Hernandez is working on before the students move from the conservatory rehearsal space to the theater next week. He even brought in the team from Raleigh's Imagine Circus to work with the young cast.

"I wanted them to have the proper professional training with someone that actually does that, how to juggle, how to walk on stilts, scarves, hula hoops and round-offs and walking on balls," says Hernandez. "Some of the things made it into the show, some of the things didn't, but I think that the experience that they had, was one that they'll never forget."

And circus training aside, Hernandez says the confidence and leadership skills the kids are developing will follow them whether they plan to pursue show business or not.

"Not everyone is going to go into show business, but I believe it is a trait that they will be able to take with them in any business, whether they become a lawyer or a doctor or even a check out boy," says Hernandez. "These are life skills that they will be able to use forever."

And for those who do decide to pursue a career in the theater, they will be in good company. North Carolina Theatre Conservatory boasts a long list of graduates who are either attending prestigious performing arts programs or performing professionally. English Bernhardt played in the national tour of IF/THEN with Idina Menzel. Reed Shannon played in the national tour of MOTOWN THE MUSICAL and is a series regular on Nickelodeon's "Blaze and the Monster Machines." He is making his movie debut in "Canal Street," which opens this year. John Arthur Greene has been seen on Broadway in SCHOOL OF ROCK, MATILDA, and WEST SIDE STORY, and on television in PETER PAN LIVE! He will also be in the Broadway-bound TOOTSIE.

At the end of the day, Hernandez says, for these kids, much like for the character of Pippin, this journey is about self-discovery.

"I think it's an opportunity for the kids to see themselves in a different light, to be able to put themselves in another person's shoes," says Hernandez. "It's thought-provoking."

"Pippin never finds anything fulfilling until he finally realizes he never had to go anyplace further than his own backyard to find what he was looking for," says Hernandez. "It has a closure at the end and the message that you can search all over you want, but the happiness has to be within."

PIPPIN runs July 6-8 at A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater at The Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. For more information, visit:

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From This Author Lauren Van Hemert