In September 2016, Thalian Association’s award-winning “Rock of Ages” had to go on hiatus for one performance thanks to Hurricane Matthew. Fast forward two years to September 2018, and Thalian Association and Wilmington has taken another hit from weather. The theatre company has to shorten the run of their season opener, “Pippin” to one weekend. No matter the 110-mile-per-hour winds or four-day torrential downpours, the show must go on and so it shall: this weekend only, October 5-7.
“We weren’t sure if the show was going to happen at all,” tells Chandler Davis, TA executive director and director of “Pippin.” “We weren’t sure what condition Thalian Hall would be in or if our cast would be able to get back in town.”
Add to it long delays in power restoration and destruction to homes, Davis wondered how the folks behind the scenes possibly could get all the costumes sewn and the set designed and built. However, the theatre gods were on her side. Thalian Hall survived with minimal damage (brow wipe) and more, so her colleagues came out OK.
“I really felt like the cast needed rehearsals to feel like things were slowly going back to normal,” Davis admits. “Everyone jumped in and worked twice as hard. We’ve had so many people help with the set. We’ve had long dance rehearsals, but it’s really paid off. It really feels like a team on hyper drive, working to accomplish their ultimate goal.”
Now, it’s time to give Wilmington audiences a chance to escape from their current woes as the curtain lifts for “Pippin” on Friday night. “If we can bring joy to people for a few hours, mission accomplished,” Davis says.
The story follows a young prince, Pippin, who has an education and is in search for the meaning of life. He wants adventure and excitement—something extraordinary. His father, King Charles, rules the land with forceful power and carnage, and expects Pippin to take over as principal heir. With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Roger O. Hirson, along with choreography by Bob Fosse (who directed the show’s first run in 1972), the musical is in the top 50 of the longest running on Broadway.
“The show is extravagant,” Davis admits, “with huge dance numbers and flashy costumes and yet it’s all about how the ‘ordinary’ life can be the most meaningful.”
Davis has set “Pippin” in a French dance hall, wherein the ensemble presents the story with dance, song and lots of illusionary tricks. Think Can-Can girls meet Fosse.
Choreographed by Kendra Goehring-Garrett, Davis instructed her vision as ‘Moulin Rouge’ style.” Goehring-Garrett researched the original and revival to create a foundation. “The one number that stands out in my mind the most is ‘Entr’acte,’” she says. “My goal was to create or recreate movement that made sense to the story and characters.”
The music runs with a variation of genres. To avoid being dated, musical director Amanda Hunter and her orchestration team updated and revised some of the score.
“The revival was done as a circus troupe,” she notes. “We aren’t taking this route, but you will still hear some of the sounds of the circus: whips and horns. This is definitely my favorite score I have ever gotten to conduct.”
The cast consists of Heather Setzler (leading player), Jonathan Wallin (King Charles), Ella Reischer (Berthe), and Jakob Gruntfest (Theo), among a very large ensemble. Pippin will be played by Joe Basquill.
“Pippin is someone I think a lot of us can relate to,” Davis tells. “He’s fresh out of school, he’s privileged, and he wants to be special. He wants to be important and do important things. He navigates complicated family relationships, war, tricky politics, and romantic relationships—all on this quest to lead an extraordinary life. Along the way, he discovers what life is really about. And I think he learns things don’t always come easily and the best things in life are worth working for.”
Playing widowed farm owner, Catherine, who is in love with Pippin, will be Hunter Wyatt. Wyatt adores how her character walks the line between being strong and soft. “She helps guide Pippin, but is not afraid to give herself over to loving him,” Wyatt tells. “Catherine is the wrench in the plan.” She guides “Pippin” toward its climax.
“The ending of the show is altered from the original production,” Wyatt informs, “and is, in my opinion, a great improvement. No spoilers, but it gives me chills every time.”
Taking on the leading lady Fastrada—wife to King Charles—is vocal powerhouse Laraisha Dionne. Dionne has been working with vocal coach Bryan Putnam to nail Fastrada’s whimsy, and seductive and cunning power. However, the extreme dance moves expected of the role have been a different challenge.
“Most people don’t cast me in dancing roles—though, I did study dance as a part of my degree,” Dionne expresses. “That said, since I have never been cast in a dancing role in Wilmington, it has been challenging to dust off those skills.”
Her vocal prowess and dance numbers explode in “Spread a Little Sunshine.” “It bounces back and forth between really funny bits, singing my face off and dancing my butt off,” Dionne tells. “I love it!”
Jordan Wolfe plays Fastrada’s knucklehead son, Lewis, who is being used as a pawn to take reign over the kingdom, rather than his half-brother, Pippin. Lewis is not the brightest bulb on the porch.
“It will be a blast bringing this lack of intelligence to the stage,” Wolfe says. “I love the humor that can be brought to the story. Lewis does care for his family, but is so in love with himself he completely misses when they are using him, or needing something from him.”
Tickets for “Pippin” can be bought at thalianhall.org.