Speakeysie News Desk 2/11/2020
As told by a traveling troupe of actors led by the cunning and charming Leading Player, Pippin is the story of a young prince, heir to the throne, who returns from university certain that he will find a fulfilling purpose in life. He dabbles in bloody battle, licentious and lusty entanglements, and savvy political maneuvers, only to discover that true happiness lies not in extraordinary endeavors, but in the ordinary moments that happen every day. As part of their February Festival, Gainesville Theatre Alliance will present Pippin Feb 11-22 at Brenau University’s Hosch Theatre.
GTA alumnus and local Gainesville magician Jeff McClure is the magic consultant for the show. McClure graduated from the GTA program in 1992 and has been working full-time as a magician and entertainment provider for the Atlanta market. Because Pippin is full of magical tricks and circus acts, McClure was invited to show students how to create magic on stage. “It’s been really cool working with the students and seeing them go from knowing nothing about magic to becoming brand new experts in the craft,” he says. “Hopefully, I had just a little bit to do with that.” One of the tricks used in the show is The Zig-Zag Lady, which McClure actually built in the GTA shop when he was a student. The illusion has traveled with him all over the United States and he is excited to share the trick with current GTA students and Pippin audiences.
Pippin is one of the pillars of musical theatre, with its most famous number, “Corner of the Sky,” cementing itself as one of the most popular male solos of all time. Juan Suarez, the UNG-Gainesville sophomore playing the titular role of Pippin, says, “The most challenging part of this production for me is all the high notes. I mean, they come one after the other after the other, and all the while, I never really leave the stage for more than ten seconds! So, there will be plenty of water bottles hidden in the set.” The original 1972 Broadway production of Pippin was directed and choreographed by the celebrated dancer/choreographer Bob Fosse, so music isn’t the only challenge of the show. Complicated dances, magic acts, and circus tricks make the show a marathon for its performers. “This show is carried by the entire ensemble working and moving together as one,” says Brenau junior and actress, Olivia Pelton. “Staying conscientious onstage and off is key in order to keep everyone safe, and to keep the story moving smoothly.”
While the ensemble of Pippin is comprised mostly of GTA students, a few students from Brenau’s dance department have also been cast in the show. “My favorite part has been meeting all these new people and bringing them into the GTA family,” says Suarez. GTA prides itself on the guest artists it brings in for its productions, and Pippin is no exception. Choreographer and GTA guest artist Barbara Hartwig has performed on Broadway, Disney, and Universal Studios, while new Gainesville resident Lisa Lee Phifer, who takes on the role of Berthe, has an extensive vocal performance background, including tours with the contemporary Christian group, Truth. Phifer recently moved from Louisiana and currently sings with The Lanier Chamber Singers and is a board member of Gainesville’s Arts Council.
Pippin’s staying power comes not only from its infectious musical score or its iconic choreography, but also from its universality. It’s one of the most recognizable coming-of-age stories of all time, and this, more than anything, is what the cast appreciates the most. “I am most excited for the way that the audience will be able to relate to it,” says Brenau senior, Rachel Finazzo. “It’s a universal story that is essentially about figuring out our purpose and I think that everyone has struggled with that at one time or another.” Pelton hopes audiences will be inspired to follow their own path. “Life is all about what you make of it,” she says. “Follow your heart, pursue your passions, and don’t let other voices dictate those for you. Your voice is what matters in being able to truly live an extraordinary life.”
Performances are Feb 11-15 and Feb 18-22 at 7:30 pm, with matinees on Feb 16 & 22 at 2:30 pm, at Brenau University’s Hosch Theatre in the John S. Burd Center for the Performing Arts, located at 429 Academy Street NE, Gainesville, GA. Tickets are $28-30 for adults, $26-28 for seniors, and $18-20 for students and are available at GainesvilleTheatreAlliance.org or by calling the box office at 678-717-3624. Box office hours of operation are Monday- Friday from 10 am to 4 pm. A free reception, catered by 2 Dog Restaurant, will follow the opening night performance. Pippin is rated PG-13.
ABOUT GAINESVILLE THEATRE ALLIANCE: Gainesville Theatre Alliance is a nationally-acclaimed collaboration between the University of North Georgia, Brenau University, theatre professionals, and the North East Georgia community. A professional theatre attached to two college theatre programs, GTA provides education through collaboration and creates quality theatrical experiences that educate, inspire, enrich, and unite. GTA produces seven productions a year; four mainstage shows, two Discovery series productions, and one Theatre for Young Audiences show, produced by GTA’s TYA division, WonderQuest. Gainesville Theatre Alliance is currently celebrating its 40th season. For more information, visit GainesvilleTheatreAlliance.org.