Want to know if you’re seeking purpose like Pippin or running the show like the Leading Player? Answer a few simple questions and DOODLE-EE-DOO you’ll find out!
Want to know if you’re seeking purpose like Pippin or running the show like the Leading Player? Answer a few simple questions and DOODLE-EE-DOO you’ll find out!
This interview was originally conducted by Denver Center senior arts journalist John Moore.
Stephen Schwartz likes to joke that somewhere, “Bob Fosse is surely looking up and laughing.”
He kids about the direction. But not the director. Fosse was Schwartz’s legendary collaborator on the musicalPippin, which in war-torn 1972 brought a surreal collision of violence, innocence and sexuality to the Broadway stage.
Fosse, known for his provocative choreography and fiery temper, died in 1987. Last year, a significantly reimaginedPippin won the Tony Award for Best Musical Revival, and its new national touring production will launching in Denver on Sept. 6.
“I think Bob would be thrilled with this,” said Schwartz, the composer who 40 years ago openly questioned the darkness and overindulgence that Fosse brought to Schwartz’s sweet story of a naïve boy searching for meaning in his life.
“There were specific choices Bob made that I honestly thought were heavy-handed and crude, and not in a good way,” Schwartz said. But now at age 66, Schwartz added, “I joke that I have ironically become the defender of Bob’s vision.”
Schwartz and book writer Roger O. Hirson have been approached dozens of times over the years by artists wanting to revisit Pippin.
“Frankly, I think merely reproducing the original — if that were even possible — would have felt quite dated,” Schwartz said. “And none of the new approaches made much sense to us.”
Any revival would bring big challenges. “The Fosse choreography is so iconic, and the performance of Ben Vereen (as the Leading Player) was so indelible, even to people who didn’t actually see it,” Schwartz said. “So it really would need a concept that was going to overcome all that without obliterating the show. And that was quite difficult to come by.”
Enter Diane Paulus, the groundbreaking director who brought the Vietnam musical Hair back to explosive life on Broadway in 2009. Her new idea? The original mysterious troupe would now be a circus family performing the story ofPippin. Now the young prince’s quest for meaning would be a death-defying one, set against live and often breathtaking acrobatics.
Schwartz and Hinson were apprehensive at first. “But I think I can speak for Roger when I say we have been totally won over,” Schwartz said. “Frankly, I think Diane is a better director of scenes and actors than Bob Fosse was. And consequently, I think the story is better told.”
Pippin began as a 17-year-old Schwartz’s spin-off of The Lion in Winter, a play about the foibles of King Henry II in 1183. Over the next seven years, the Pippinproject came to reflect Schwartz’s own journey as a young man in his 20s.
Fosse, then 47, agreed to direct and choreograph Pippin on Broadway if allowed to make the story more dark and sophisticated. Fosse brought in Ben Vereen, fresh off his electric performance in Jesus Christ Superstar, to play the Leading Player, a narrator of sorts who leads Pippin down many dangerous roads.
Schwartz says it’s “absolutely accurate” to suggest that, essentially, he is Pippin, “particularly in talking about me at age 24,” he said. “I think more and more that the character of Pippin became a great deal like me at that time.”
But what became intriguingly clear to Circus Creator Gypsy Snyder, who had never seen Pippin before the recent revival, is that Fosse is the Leading Player.
“When you look at the sexuality and the seduction and the violence and the eroticism of the piece,” Snyder said, “ … then we are really looking at a retrospective of Fosse’s life. And then you have is the innocent side of Pippin: The loving family man, the ‘Corner of the Sky” Pippin. That was absolutely the Stephen Schwartz that I got to know through this production. He’s just so positive and so hard-working and he keeps an innocent eye. That’s Pippin.”
“Bob’s was the more worldly-wise point of view,” Schwartz said. “And Roger Hirson, who was in his 40s when we opened, may have been the Charlemagne character.”
Read more about this and more in this exclusive, expansive interview with one of the leading figures in American theatre history. Schwartz, who has contributed toWicked, Godspell, Children of Eden and many more, is a member of the Theatre Hall of Fame and president of the Dramatists Guild. He has three Academy Awards, four Grammy Awards, four Drama Desk Awards and, shockingly, no Tony Awards.
John Moore: So where did I find you today?
Stephen Schwartz: I am getting ready to visit Trumbull, Conn., because a high school there has a drama troupe run by a girl who very bravely last year resisted censorship on their production of Rent. And The Directors Guild, of which I am president, has honored her with a courage award. Now her troupe is doingChildren of Eden, so it’s kind of come full circle. And so, in appreciation for what she has done, I am taking myself to Trumbull.
John Moore: It meant a lot to the students attending last month’s Jimmy Awards in New York when you stopped by to speak to them.
Stephen Schwartz: Well, Music Theatre International, which represents most of my shows, is very active with the Jimmy Awards, and they asked if I would come and talk with them. And pretty much anything MTI asks me to do, I do — because they have been very good to me over the years.
John Moore: Well, I think you have been pretty good to MTI, too.
Stephen Schwartz: (laughing): Well, thanks. I really enjoyed getting a chance to talk to the kids. They were amazing. It was really cool to spend a little time with them.
John Moore What was your message of encouragement to them?
Stephen Schwartz: I am a big believer in — and living proof of — the theory of ‘follow your bliss.’ This is a very difficult and often very mean business. But if this is your dream, and you persevere at it, it is possible for people to make a living, and make a life, in this profession. My advice to them is the same as my advice to my own children: If you pursue what you want to do, you may not wind up where you thought you were going to, exactly, but it will take you somewhere you are more likely to want to be than if you made the ‘safe,’ or perhaps the ‘sane’ choice. If you think, ‘I’ll wait, and at some point I’ll pursue what I actually want do do’ … then I don’t think that necessarily works out for the better.
John Moore: Wait, I didn’t think we were talking about Pippin yet. But apparently we are.
Stephen Schwartz: Well yes. There we are… You know, Pippin, in the end, makes the sane choice.
John Moore: I am sure you have been told over and over about how your music has changed the course of young peoples’ lives. But for my generation, it wasGodspell and Pippin doing the life-changing, and now you have this whole new generation of theatre kids all geeked out because, hey: You’re the guy who wrote Wicked.
Stephen Schwartz: It is sort of strange, isn’t it? But obviously it’s nice that at my … advanced … age, if you will, that I have come up with something – along with my collaborators — that has spoken to people of all ages, but particularly to a young generation.
John Moore: So whose idea was it to revisit Pippin now?
Stephen Schwartz: It was really (Director) Diane Paulus, who had been wanting to do it for quite a while. I was an admirer of her work, particularly on (the Broadway revival of) Hair, which I thought was excellent. I felt Diane had managed to both honor the original but also make it fresh, and that is a quite tricky line to walk. After I really got to see her way of thinking, and her creativity, in a show called Blue Flower at her (American Repertory Theatre) in Boston, I became enthusiastic that she was someone who might be able to pull this off. And, of course, she has proven that in spades.
John Moore: So what did you think when Diane said, ‘I want to put this in a circus’?
Stephen Schwartz: I had actually heard the idea of a circus before. And it wasn’t something that I thought was a great idea, to be honest, because I was picturing a different kind of circus. But then Diane, who has done work with Cirque du Soleil, told me about this troupe from Montreal called Les 7 doigts de la main, or ‘The 7 Fingers of the Hand.’ I went to see a show of theirs that happened to be touring the States. We discussed it further and I began to have a glimmer of what Diane was talking about. But I have to say that until I saw it, I really didn’t truly understand what she meant, and what her vision was. I just didn’t. I think that’s one of the things about someone who is as gifted and as visionary as Diane. She had these ideas in her head that are difficult to express verbally — but then when you see them, you get them.
John Moore: And so now that you have lived in it, how do you articulate to people that this is the winning formula?
Stephen Schwartz: That is a good question. Other than by assertion, I’m not sure that I know how to do that. It’s important for you to understand that Diane did not just overlay circus performance on top of the show as some kind of gimmick. First of all, she integrated the idea of the circus performances into the storytelling. It’s not as if the show grinds to a halt and they do a circus trick, and then the story starts up again. Secondly, the way that she and Gypsy Snider did the circus part of the show, and the way Chet Walker did the choreography, is very special, I think. In some instances, the choreography is a very faithful re-creation of Bob Fosse’s work. And in other places, I think what Chet has done is a very creative interpretation of what Bob might have done under these new circumstances. So it really is a complete re-envisioning of Pippin. This is a revisal as well as a revival of the show — on all levels.
John Moore: How do you think Bob would have liked this new approach?
Stephen Schwartz: I think Bob would be thrilled with this. I think if we had been able to think of some of the changes we have made together, he would have been extremely enthusiastic about them. Just the sheer sort of theatricality of the staging and this presentation, I think would have pleased him very much.
John Moore: You have said the inspiration for Pippin actually comes from James Goldman’s play The Lion in Winter.
Stephen Schwartz: That’s true. It started as a sort of a medieval court intrigue musical melodrama. And then it gradually transmogrified into being semi-autobiographical. And then it turned into the story of my generation — as I saw it.
John Moore: So here’s a quick Lion in Winter story: I was reviewing a production by a venerable community theatre for The Denver Post. And as we are leaving, an older audience member sees my notebook and stops me. She says, ‘Now you be sure to put in your review that that was the most understandable Shakespeare play I have ever seen!’
Stephen Schwartz (laughing): That is so great. And you know what? She is right. That is absolutely the best description of The Lion in Winter I have ever heard. I hope you put it in your review. That is perfect.
John Moore: You bet I did.
Stephen Schwartz: That is just hilarious.
John Moore: So getting back to of Bob Fosse … I’ve noticed over the years that whenever you are interviewed, you are so disarmingly honest in your answers. One might even say Pippin-esque —
Stephen Schwartz: Yes, and that gets me into trouble a lot of the time.
John Moore: Well I respect how you’ve openly discussed your initial, honest discomfort with how far Mr. Fosse was taking things. So I am wondering how you feel about this new version in those terms.
Stephen Schwartz: I do feel quite honestly that there were some choices Bob made that I thought were just – well, overindulgent is the best word. That went beyond the concept of the sexuality that he injected into it.
John Moore: And here’s where I think the real danger lies: It’s not whether Broadway gets it right, or the national touring production, because you control that. But you can’t know how that indulgence expresses itself in local productions across the country that might not have someone to reign it in. I have seen productions of Pippin where they take that Bob Fosse element and they times it by 10.
Stephen Schwartz: Yes, I know — and that’s so not the show. And it really misses the tone that Bob was going for, and I think largely succeeded with. What I like about this new production, is that, yes, it is still a very sexy show. And a lot of those elements that Bob created remain in the show intact. But I think Diane, with her intelligence — and frankly with her taste — never lets it go over the line. Even in the famed ‘sex ballet’ section, it doesn’t go over the line, I feel.
John Moore: You may get a kick out of the headline of my essay after having seen the new revival on Broadway last October. It read: “Broadway wins over a Pippin pessimist.”
Stephen Schwartz: Well you know what? That could MY headline on this one, too.
John Moore: You’re kidding … Really?
Stephen Schwartz: Oh, yeah. Because Roger and I resisted for so long going forward. I don’t know if we were pessimistic, but we certainly had trepidation about it. And I think I can speak for Roger when I say we have been totally won over. I am just a huge fan of this production.
John Moore: I never had any question about Pippin the character, or his story, because it’s so clearly universal. I wrote, ‘You don’t have to be 17 and coming of age to feel this show in your open heart and rambling bones. You just have to have come of age.’ That has to be somewhat true of any 17-year-old of any century. But my first Pippin was a very small community theatre production in 1986, and I remember feeling that it felt like this was a signature work for its time – which was the 1970s. So at first, I wasn’t sure how revisiting it in 2012 could really work, or why it was even necessary – not without turning it into a whole new modern, hipper theatre experience. But I think what impressed me the most about this new version was how muscular it was. I mean, this show is a true physical display of athletic and acrobatic skill. I also thought it was just charming in how self-deprecating it was in its telling.
Stephen Schwartz: I agree with all of that. So much of Pippin was of its time. It was written in the time of the Vietnam War and the Generation Gap and ‘Don’t trust anybody over 30.’ And in that whole context, frankly, I think merely reproducing the original — if that were even possible — would have felt quite dated. That’s one of the reasons I was optimistic when Diane approached me, because that’s one of the things she achieved with Hair. It was of its time, but it had a contemporary sensibility. It was like living in the moment, and then looking at the moment at the same time — and I thought that was a pretty remarkable achievement. Pippin is certainly less specifically of its time than Hair was of its, but I still think that’s part of what Diane has achieved here.
John Moore: I’m glad you brought up the Vietnam War, because I am of the generation that just missed most of that, so I did not grow up thinking of war as a universal. But now, everyone who is Pippin’s age in America has lived their entire conscious lives with their country in a state of military conflict.
Stephen Schwartz: Exactly.
John Moore: … So maybe young people today will take a perspective into this new Pippin that’s more in line with the young people who saw Pippin in 1972. War is a universal for this generation – because, for them, it’s always been there.
Stephen Schwartz: Well, that’s unfortunately a “for sure.” And in that same kind of controversial and divisive way that the Vietnam War was. It’s not like World War II, where everyone was united in thinking this was something that we had to do as a country. Iraq was extremely polarizing and divisive, so … yeah.
John Moore: Let’s touch on a couple of other key elements. First, you have changed the ending. What can we say about that without giving anything away?
Stephen Schwartz: Now, that is something I have no doubt Bob Fosse would have been happy with, if only we had thought of it back then. There are reasons we couldn’t have – reasons that go beyond just that we weren’t smart enough to think of it. But I will say this new ending is so clearly the right ending for the show.
John Moore: Why do you say you two could not have eventually come up with this new idea the first time around?
Stephen Schwartz: It has to do with the fact that, in the original show, the character of Theo was a little boy. He was 6. In this cast, he is a bit older than that.
John Moore: OK, I am going to leave it at that.
Stephen Schwartz: And so will I.
John Moore: You mentioned Ben Vereen. Obviously a huge change is having your Leading Player be played by a woman.
Stephen Schwartz: I knew one of the problems we would have to overcome in doing any big, commercial revival of Pippin would be memory of Ben Vereen everybody would bring into it. You’d start out with people wanting to see that. And, of course, that’s impossible. So we had to either somehow break that — or overcome that. So when Diane said, ‘Well, what if the character of the Leading Player is a woman?’ — that made us think, ‘Well … then you can’t be sitting there saying, ‘He’s no Ben Vereen!’ — which is what I think any male performer would have encountered. Oddly enough, I feel like, now that we have done this — If at some point in the future we wanted to go back to a male Leading Player, there are certain things about the way the show is written, and some of the new things that we have added — particularly between the Leading Player and Catherine — that I think would not go down as well if the Leading Player were male. It would seem a little brutal.
John Moore: And before we leave: How great is it that you have John Rubinstein coming on board to play Pippin’s father after having originated the role of Pippin in 1972?
Stephen Schwartz: Is that the best? I mean, is that the best ever? And this was not stunt casting. We walked into the auditions and John Rubinstein’s name was on the list. There were some other really good people, too. Of course, we were amazed and delighted that John was coming in to audition. But he was the best. Frankly, I don’t think we would have done it if we hadn’t felt that he was the best choice. But the idea of it was so irresistible. There was one moment in auditions, and it was only for Roger and me. John read the chapel scene and there is a line where Pippin says, ‘Time has passed you by, father.’ And Charlemagne’s line back is, ‘And your time has come, my son?’ I mean, hearing that from John? I can’t even talk about it. It was just so emotional to hear John Rubinstein say that line. I know it doesn’t have the same resonance for people who are just seeing the show for the first time. But for Roger and me? That was a pretty emotional moment.
This interview was originally conducted by Denver Center senior arts journalist John Moore.
Director Diane Paulus’ mantra as an artist is to always expand the boundaries of theatre … or why bother?
“As a director,” she says, “one of my biggest interests is creating a visceral experience for audiences.”
Audiences will be feeling visceral come Sept. 6, when the national touring production of Paulus’ Tony-winning musical revival Pippin launches in Denver. They will be witnessing death-defying flips, tight-rope walks, knife-juggling and more. And “those acrobatic tricks you see are real, “ she said, “and they are real every night.”
That means be no protective cables. No safety nets.
“With every performance, those are real, extraordinary achievements happening on that stage. It’s live. It’s happening there. And the audience witnesses it in the moment. And that makes the production so immediate.”
It is that kind of theatrical daring that earned Paulus spot on Time Magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. … In the world.
Paulus is the Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard University in Boston, where she debuted Pippin on its way to Broadway; and where she just opened a pre-Broadway run of a new Peter Pan musical based on the film Finding Neverland.
Paulus brought the London theatrical phenomenon Sleep No More to America in 2011 on its way to New York. That’s an immersive version of Macbeth that plays out on multiple floors of a warehouse in the meatpacking district of Manhattan. Paulus calls that kind of thing “adventure theatre.”
The same can be said of Pippin. Paulus got the green light to mount the first major revival of Pippin in 40 years when she told composer Stephen Schwartz she wanted to set his story of a young man search’s for meaning in the dangerous world of the circus.
“It wasn’t about layering something on that didn’t need to be there,” Paulus said. “It was about the theme of the story: How far are we willing to go to be extraordinary in our lives? That question is at the heart of Pippin’s journey. That question is also at the heart of every circus performer’s life. And it’s a literal one: How far will I go? Will I jump and land upside down on someone’s hand? Will I leap through a hoop on fire? How far can I push my human body to aspire to be extraordinary?”
What follows are excerpts from our expansive interview with one of the leading figures in the American theatre.
John Moore: We’re talking to you as you are just days away from opening the Broadway-bound Finding Neverland at your American Repertory Theatre in Boston.
Diane Paulus: Yes, we are in the middle of previews right now.
John Moore: Well, then, I can’t imagine how you can be in any kind of a Pippinheadspace, so thank you for making time.
Diane Paulus: It’s a little crazy, but I have my Pippin T-shirt on right now, so I am already in Pippin land a little bit. It’s all good.
John Moore: What was your introduction to Pippin?
Diane Paulus: I saw Pippin as a little girl growing up in New York City. I was 8 years old, and seeing it on Broadway marked me. It made such a huge impression. I remembered those characters. I remembered that world that (Director and Choreographer) Bob Fosse put on stage. I remembered Ben Vereen and all those players. And of course, I grew up on the score. I wore out my album. I played Corner of the Sky on the piano. I also sang With You at my brother’s wedding — not really understanding that, in the show, that’s a song about Pippin getting together with a lot of different women. I sing No Time at Allwith my college friends at our reunions. So I’ve been living that Pippin score my whole life. I have always wanted to touch this show again.
John Moore: What appealed to you most about revisiting it?
Diane Paulus: A lot of people remember the Fosse and they remember the music, but you don’t have a lot of people saying to you, ‘Oh, what an amazing story.’ But I have always felt there was a very powerful and important story there. To me, Pippin is almost a pageant play, like a trial of the soul in all these different stages of a man’s life that are theatricalized — going to war, the temptation of the flesh, the ordinary life. Pippin is the son of King Charlemagne, but he could stand in as an everyman. I got very excited about trying to make the meaning of his story viscerally felt.
John Moore: And what does it mean — to you?
Diane Paulus: For me, the theme of Pippin is this: How far do we go to be extraordinary in our lives? Right now, that is such a relevant question — more than ever. Just how far do we push ourselves? What is glory? What is it to be extraordinary, and what are the choices that we make in our lives? Ultimately, what I love about Pippin is that it’s not a moralistic story. It doesn’t say, ‘Well, here’s the right answer.’ It really puts the question out to the audience. When we first did Pippin up at A.R.T. (in Boston), we’re in a college town, and there were young college kids coming to see the show who were completely relating to Pippin. They were asking questions like, ‘What am I doing with my life?’ ‘What is my purpose in life?’ ‘What am I going to be, and who am I, and why am I here on the planet?’ And you know what? I am a mom in my 40s, and I am thinking about things like, ‘What are the choices I’ve made, and how do I negotiate a career and a family, and what does it mean to be extraordinary in my life?’ Over the course of this production, I have seen entire generations of people affected by it. I saw an elderly man in his 80s weeping at the end of the show, and I just thought, ‘Cleary, this show pushes you to think about the choices you are making, or the choices you have made in your life.’
John Moore: So what was your biggest directorial challenge?
Diane Paulus: My biggest directorial challenge was determining what the world of this play was going to be.
John Moore: (Composer) Stephen Schwartz told me you weren’t the first to come to him wanting to put Pippin in a circus. But he did say that your concept was the best. How did you came up with your idea, and what was the pitch?
Diane Paulus: I really got interested in this idea of circus because, to me, the show has to have an identity for the troupe of players. And the circus has such a strong identity. It’s a traveling family that pitches their tent from town to town. They transform the lives of the people who dare to enter that tent. And then they pick up and leave, and they go somewhere else. So you don’t ever really know a lot about who those circus people are. You don’t think about them doing ordinary things like going to the supermarket and cooking. They just sort of come alive for you for as long as they are in that tent. It’s a fantasy world. That was the hook for me: What if this group is a circus troupe, and they have come to town, and they have pitched their tent, and the Leading Player is literally standing outside that tent seducing you, the audience, to come inside and ‘join us.’ And if you dare to enter that tent, who knows what you will experience? Who knows how you will be transformed? You might be so transformed that you might even decide that you want to run away with the circus. That’s another metaphor for me: How many of us in our lives have wanted to run away with the circus? Either literally, or metaphorically? When in our lives have we decided to take that leap—and when have we decided, “No,” because, for any number of reasons, I can’t run away with the circus right now. I have to choose other things. That was the metaphor me.
John Moore: Your goal is always to expand the boundaries of theatre, and that certainly seems to be what the circus achieves in Pippin.
Diane Paulus: I have been a great admirer of Les 7 doigts de la main (The 7 Fingers of the Hand). So when I met (Circus Creator) Gypsy Snider, I asked if she would ever want to work on a musical. And then we started talking about Pippin, and the theme meant so much to her. That’s when I knew this collaboration would work. Because it wasn’t about layering something on that didn’t need to be there. It was about the theme of the story: How far are we willing to go to be extraordinary in our lives? That question is at the heart of every acrobat and circus performer. That’s the first thing Gypsy said to me: ‘That is the life of an acrobat.’
John Moore: And how does that translate into the theatre experience?
Diane Paulus: I am always interested in embracing theatre for what I think it should be, which is the absolute, live experience that is witnessed by each audience member. It’s not something we can later replay on our telephones or computers. As an audience member, you are seeing it, and what you are seeing can only be experienced right then and there, and it will be different every night.
John Moore: How did you decide how you would go about replicating the Fosse choreography – and how much?
Diane Paulus: There is no one like Bob Fosse. I have always worshipped at the altar of Fosse for what he did as an artist, and for his unique vision. I knew if we were going to bring back Pippin, we had to bring back the Fosse. It’s just too connected. Chet Walker was part of that original Broadway production ofPippin. He had worked with Fosse for years, and so having Chet on the team was so important to me. When I first met Chet, he said to me, ‘Bob Fosse would never want to re-create something. He never wanted to repeat himself. He and Stephen Schwartz also told me that Fosse loved Fellini. And when you look at it, this fascination with Fellini and clowns is all over even the original choreography. It’s almost inside the DNA of the original production. But we had an opportunity with our production to take it further.
John Moore: When you approached Gypsy, she had never seen Pippin before. She said the first thing that became obvious to her was that the Leading Player was Bob Fosse, and Pippin was Stephen Schwartz. When I mentioned that to Stephen, he just kind of paused and said, ‘That’s exactly right.’ What do you think of the comparison?
Diane Paulus: I am such a huge fan of both of those artists. It was so interesting to work with Stephen because here it was, 40 years later, and he was no longer the young college kid who wrote the show. He’s now a mature artist looking back on his life. And I think now he had an appreciation for what Fosse saw in it when they made this in the ’70s. So I think Stephen really helped me understand what the brew was back in the ’70s between he and Fosse. Looking at it now for this revival as a mature artist, I think Stephen was able to identify more with Fosse. It was so edifying and inspiring for me to really understand the original production and everything that made that birth happen. A lot of people think of Pippin from having done it at their camp, or at their community theatre, or at their college. And so, for a lot of people, they know it as The Kumbaya Pippin. And this is notThe Kumbaya Pippin. This story is deep, and it is profound, and it has really intense meaning. I think that was there in the original collaboration between Stephen and Bob Fosse. I remember that heat from when I was a kid, and I wanted to re-create that heat and take it even further.
John Moore: Obviously a big change with this production is that a woman is playing the Leading Player. Stephen felt no male actor could possibly follow in Ben Vereen’s footsteps.
Diane Paulus: Well, you know, in the script, it just says, “Leading Player.” It doesn’t say anything about race or gender. There is no other information, aside what is in the text. So I sent Stephen a note saying, ‘Tell me about this Leading Player. What do I have to know?’ Just give me some details.’ And he said back, ‘The Leading Player can be anyone. Male. Female African-American, white, whatever demographic or ethnicity you want.’ The only thing he said is that the Leading Player has to feel different from Pippin. The Leading Player has to represent everything Pippin has not experienced in life. So, with that … I agree with Stephen. The specter of Ben Vereen is huge, and for me that meant we had to have someone who could sing as well as Ben, who could dance as well as Ben, and who could act as well as Ben. So that was really the gauntlet that was thrown down. We had to find someone who is a true triple-threat. I knew Ben could do everything, and I knew we had to find someone who could deliver in all those departments. And, in our case — maybe also someone who is willing to get on a trapeze and be a little fearless with some of the circus stuff.
John Moore: How hard was that to find all in one performer?
Diane Paulus: We auditioned everyone. We auditioned men and women. Every possible ethnicity came through our door. We had no agenda about who we were going to cast. However, I have to confess that Patina Miller was secretly in my brain, because I had worked with her on Hair. And then she helped create this stamp on this role of a powerful woman and leader. She proved that a woman could tell this story in such an interesting way for a modern, 21st-century audience. So now, the female Leading Player is integral. We’re looking forward to what Sasha Allen does with the role now.
John Moore: Speaking of Hair, I have to ask you about your Jeannie, who was played by Colorado’s sweetheart, Annaleigh Ashford.
Diane Paulus: Oh my gosh. She is such a joy, and, as everyone knows, so hysterically funny. There is not one word that can come out of that women’s mouth that doesn’t make you laugh. I loved working with her on Hair. She was so quirky and funny and such a pro. And she is so committed as an artist. I felt really lucky to have had that experience with her.
John Moore: It looks like Finding Neverland is going to be the next big thing. Can you give us a sneak peek into what kind of a theatrical experience we’re in for?
Diane Paulus: What I love about the show is that it’s the story of the power of the imagination through the life of J.M. Barrie. Speaking of expanding the boundaries, he took a leap of faith and created something that everyone felt was crazy back in 1904. I mean, this was a story with boys who could fly and fairies and mermaids and crocodiles. Everybody thought he was nuts. He created Peter Pan — something we all now think of as a brand of peanut butter. And if people have seen it, they say, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ve seen it a thousand times, and it’s the most mainstream, accessible musical you could point to.’ But it wasn’t in its creation.
John Moore: This must be fun for you, having daughters.
Diane Paulus. Yes. Because at the heart of it, this is about is seeing the world through the eyes of a child. I am making Finding Neverland for my two daughters. What does it means to have spirit of a child in your life? What kind of worlds can we see through their eyes? I love the show. The heart of it is very strong.
John Moore: Before we go, I am curious what you think about the new ending forPippin. Without giving anything away, why do you think this new ending is the right ending?
Diane Paulus: Our ending now makes perfect sense. This show is about all the trials we have to go through in our lives, and everyone goes through them. And so when Pippin ends, you have this sense that it is all going to begin again. I tell you, when we were making this production, there were kids all over the place, because so many of us have children, and I let everybody watch rehearsal. It was like a circus of children. Every time we finished rehearsal, all of the kids would rush on to the stage and try to climb the poles and try to do all the acrobatic tricks. It was sort of primal. I looked at them one day and I thought, ‘That’s the story!’ Even though we know we are going to fall, a kid will always want to climb a tree. A kid will always want to try to climb a pole. It’s a part of human nature, and that to me is what we get in this new ending.
John Moore: And also looking at it from Pippin’s perspective. He has to make a decision. And I think Stephen was always a little uncomfortable that people might interpret the original ending of a man choosing to be a responsible husband and father as somehow settling. In this day and age, we really should be celebrating those men who choose fatherhood and family, should we not?
Diane Paulus: Every individual has to face certain decisions at some point in their lives. And you make your choice for a reason. And I think each choice is extraordinary, if you really get in touch with yourself. To me, that’s the story. Stop doing what people tell you to do. Identify what’s in your heart. That might mean running away with the circus. That might mean choosing a family, and to love someone, which means you can’t run away with the circus right now. It’s all about the choice. It’s all about the risk of the choice. It’s not about which choice you actually make. Can you hear your heart and follow your heart and the truth inside yourself? That is the journey of Pippin. That’s your journey. And that’s my journey, too.
We’ve got five great reasons that you should JOIN US at the Cadillac Palace Theatre July 29 – August 9 to see PIPPIN!
#5 – TONY AWARD-WINNING!
PIPPIN took home 4 Tony Awards in 2013, including Best Direction and Best Musical Revival!
#4 – BROADWAY’S BEST!
Features an all-star cast with “The Voice”‘s Sasha Allen and John Rubinstein (the original Pippin)!
#3 – SHOW-STOPPING NUMBERS!
Fosse-inspired choreography set to a Tony-nominated score by Stephen Schwartz (composer of WICKED).
#2 – SOARING REVIEWS
Critics and audiences love this brand-new PIPPIN!
#1 – EYE-POPPING SPECTACLE
Features death-defying acrobatic skills by Les 7 Doigts De La Main, the creative force behind nationwide sensation, “Traces.”
From the high heels of Kinky Boots to the dazzling hoops of Pippin, this season is sure to take the theater experience to new heights! Broadway in Chicago’s spring season is now on sale and we have six great reasons why you should become a subscriber and be a part of the magic.
1. You’ll never hear the words “Sold Out!” With the incredible lineup Broadway in Chicago has this spring, tickets are sure to go fast. They’ll quickly disappear like the cast from The Illusionists, which will bring magic to the stage this March. Never get left out of a captivating night at the theater when you become subscriber.
2. These shows will have you On Your Feet. Emilio and Gloria Estefan’s autobiographical musical is guaranteed to make you laugh, cry and dance. Feel like you’re a part of the show as you move around and sing along to catchy tunes like “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You”. And yes, you can hold your subscription responsible for these songs staying in your head days after you see the show!
3. Be a part of the Club. Enjoy a music-filled evening with the ladies from the First Wives Club while enjoying the benefits from a Broadway in Chicago subscription. Subscribers get special perks like discounted parking and seat upgrades. It will be the best club you join all year!
4. Enjoy hassle free exchanges and replacements when you become a subscriber. The only people that will have to jump through hoops at the theater are the wonderfully talented cast of Pippin. Subscribers will enjoy exclusive exchange privileges that include lost tickets being replaced for free! Now those perks dazzle almost as much as Pippin!
5. Six shows for 1 low price! The heels in Kinky Boots are high enough as it is. Don’t be forced to choose between these six amazing shows. Choose your package and pricing for your preferred day and seating section and enjoy all six! The Tony Award winning score from Kinky Boots alone is well worth it.
6. And the final reason to purchase a Broadway in Chicago subscription is to witness a “Beautiful” performance. Enjoy six wonderful evenings of laughter, magic and music at its finest. Beautiful: the Carole King Musical, is just one of the many shows that will provide unforgettable performances that will make purchasing a subscription totally worth it!
Click here to become a subscriber for the spring 2015 season now!