Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Extraordinary Life We All Live - Talking to PIPPIN Director Peter J. Hill

Kathi Osborne as The Leading Player and Skyler Washburn as Pippin
Photo by Stephanie Tippi Hart
 by Julia Bashaw

Just about everyone wants to be or do something extraordinary at one point in their lives, to be unique or special. In 1972 Stephen Schwartz composed a musical based on a book by Roger O. Hirson called Pippin. A story told by a performance troupe explaining the journey of a young prince who wants a life of meaning and importance. The troupe is directed by a ‘Leading Player’ who guides and mischievously controls aspects of the story.

This beloved musical was chosen by the Fountain Hills Theater's Artistic/Technical Director Peter J. Hill for their current season, and Hill is directing the show as well.

“It is one of my favorite shows,” Hill stated with a laugh of reminiscence. “One of those that I wore out the vinyl (of the original cast recording) when I was just out of high school. It came out in ‘72 originally and after the 2013 revival it got new legs and our audiences are interested to see it. It’s one young man’s journey that sort of reflects how everyone is trying to find what’s going to make their life special and unique.”

When Pippin premiered back in 1972, the performance troupe that the Leading Player conducts was mysterious, you couldn't necessarily attribute them to a specific performing type. But in the 2013 revival, the director had the group resemble a circus-inspired performance troupe and made them into a group of acrobatic performers. And now in 2019, Hill had a new way to interpret the artists.

“I am interested to see how people are going to react,” admitted Hill. “I set it in the 1920s with a silent film crew. I set it there because we have a pretty decent rear projection system here in our theatre. It occurred to me that this could be a group of people lead by a director, the Leading Player, and that there is this kid who wants to be a star and wants to be special.”

On top of this creative interpretation, Hill cast the Leading Player as a woman. In the original cast, the role was played by a male, Ben Vereen, and the revival was played by a female, Patina Miller. Both actors ended up winning Tony Awards for their performances. When conducting the casting process Hill had no preference.

“It was gender neutral,” Hill stated. “I was willing to go back to the original musical keys for man, or in the new revival musical keys for a woman. We just went by who we thought would fit the role the best. I think a woman can’t help but bring a nurturing quality it seems sometimes. I don’t mean that to sound sexist, but men do tend to come off as little bit more evil or manipulative in this role. Casting it was fun! And we had half a dozen people we were looking at seriously for the Leading Player, four women and two men.”

Lacey Dixon, Skyler Washburn and Kathi Osborne 
Photo by Stephanie Tippi Hart
Pippin is widely known for its music and choreography. The original Broadway production was directed and choreographed by the incredible Bob Fosse. The revival stuck to his style of choreography, and Peter Hill’s production will be doing the same. When it comes to the music, as Hill stated above he wore his vinyl record down listening to the Broadway cast recording. When asked if he identified with any song from Stephen Schwartz's score he burst out laughing.

“You know,” Hill smiled, “it depends on what time of life you are in. When I was a young man I identified with 'Extraordinary’ because I wanted to be extraordinary too. Now I probably identify more with the later songs, the love songs. And I think everybody identifies with ‘Magic To Do’ because that’s what we all want to do, especially if you are in theatre that’s what we want to do. Stephen Schwartz just wrote some terrific music.”

The show has some exciting twists, turns, and quite a big predicament at the end. The audience goes along on Pippin's journey and will hopefully discover something about their own lives.

“The overall theme is that we are all unique and we are all extraordinary,” Hill explained. “And it is not necessarily the great events or the spectacular events that make us special, it is the small things. The unique everyday situations that happen to us that are actually our lives, that’s uniqueness.”

Pippin at the Fountain Hills Theatre opens this Friday, April 19th and will run through May 5th with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sundays. The cast and crew are excited to break the fourth wall and share this marvelous adventure with audiences. When asked what he hopes audiences will take away after seeing the production, Hill smiled.

“The program,” he joked. “But really, I think it has that ‘everyman’ quality to it. The story is relatable at almost any age. I hope they having a good feeling and understanding of what we were trying to say but more importantly that they just had a good time.”

CLICK HERE for more information on this production, which runs April 19-May 5

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