Boiler Room Theatre continues its 2012 season with an imaginative take on the Stephen Schwartz/Bob Fosse extravaganza, Pippin, running July 6-28 at the theater in the historic Factory at Franklin.
Originally directed for Broadway by Bob Fosse and boasting an energetic, pop-influenced score by Stephen Schwartz (the composer and lyricist behind Wicked and Godspell) Pippin spins its tale around the little-known son of Charlemagne, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. While his father is clearly destined for historical greatness, the melancholy Pippin (played by BRT newcomer Josh Lowery) is still searching for his own purpose in life.
Steered by the mysterious Leading Player (Billy Ditty) and accompanied by his band of vaudeville-inspired performers, Pippin explores everything from military service and political intrigue to hazy hedonism on his way to discovering his own path.
"Pippin has some very interesting things to say about our own times—materialism, celebrity, family, war,“ says director Paul Cook. “But by giving it the veil of ‘Hey Kids, let's put on a show’, it gives the audience a safe bit of distance from which to observe and question. It also does some of the same things that the other great Fosse show— Chicago—does: It takes conventions of musical theatre, and turns them on their ear. It makes a definite statement when you use the trappings of vaudeville and musical comedy to present stories about war, death, and murderers.”
Although Pippin was originally staged with a heavy vaudeville influence, Cook found his inspiration for this production from an unusual milieu – the circus.
“Our goal has been a traditional, circa 1900 American Circus,” explains Cook. “This idea started from the text: Pippin is a young man in search of something, and I made the leap to Circus when I thought that for us as Americans, there is the cliche about ‘don't know what to do with your life? Run away and join the circus!’ I thought there were some interesting parallels— the Leading Player becomes a Ringmaster, Charlemagne becomes the Circus Strong Man, etc. It allowed us some freedom to create something other than merely re-creating the original Fosse staging. I really like it, as an audience member, when I see something new on stage, and I thought ‘I've never seen this type of design in a musical before’, so I thought it would be a fun challenge. Of course, my ideas are only as strong as the design team I have to execute them, and I couldn't be happier with my set designer Nathan Hamilton and my costume designer Lynda Cameron Bayer. Their work is key to realizing the vision.”
At the center of this circus is ringmaster Billy Ditty. Well-known on the Nashville theatre scene as a multi-talented actor, director, choreographer and costumer, Ditty draws on his considerably diverse creative talents as The Leading Player, a role originally made famous by Ben Vereen.
“It’s a joy to work with as dexterous and seasoned a performer as Billy,” says Cook. “We needed someone charismatic, confident, and classy - all of which Billy has in spades. He's a smart performer, who asks a lot of great questions. He brings a great sense of excitement and danger to the role.”
BRT newcomer Josh Lowery appears in the role of Pippin, the ne’er-do-well son of King Charlemagne, played by W. Scott Stewart. Reischa Feuerbacher and Greg Richards appear as Fastrada and Lewis, Pippin’s stepmother and half-brother, while Dan McGeachy plays his feisty grandmother, Berthe. Rosemary Fossee and Hayden Gill appear as the young widow, Catherine, and her son, Theo, that Pippin encounters on his adventures. The remaining roles are fleshed out by the ensemble: Corrie Miller, Bill Jones, Jennifer Whitcomb-Olivia, Russell Qualls, JR Knowles and Vicki White.