Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The 'Pippin' Profiles, Lucie Arnaz: At 63, it's time to start livin'

The 'Pippin' Profiles, Lucie Arnaz: At 63, it's time to start livin' 

by John Moore | 
Lucie Arnaz is, of course, the daughter of arguably the world’s most famous female comic of all time: Lucille Ball. But she has carved out her own persona in both life and in 45 years in the entertainment industry. In her greeting to fans on her web site, she is quick to point out that she’s Lucie, all right – “spelled with an IE.” 
She is her own woman.

But Arnaz is also quick to credit her mother for her bravery, for her sense of risk-taking and her comic timing. “It’s absolutely in the blood,” she said. 
Arnaz is putting all three of those gifts to work in the first national touring production of Pippin the Musical, which launches in Denver on Sept. 6. Arnaz is playing Berthe, the free-spirited grandmother who urges the wayward prince to have some fun and live a little. Only in this Tony Award-winning reimagining of Stephen Schwartz's beloved 1972 musical, Arnaz gets to sing the crowd-pleaser No Time At All while hanging from a trapeze, without  a net or a cable to keep her safe. 
And did we mention she’s 63? It's OK ... she will. To Arnaz, Pippin is an opportunity to celebrate her life up till now. 
“The last thing I say in my program bio is: 'This show is a gift I am giving to myself,’ ” she said.  

Arnaz got her start on TV opposite her mother on The Lucy Show. By 15, she was a series regular on Here’s Lucy, which led to her own series, The Lucie Arnaz Show. Her film credits include The Jazz Singer opposite Neil Diamond and Sir Laurence Olivier and, most recently, in the Sundance darling The Pack, opposite Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men). That’s about a young man who sues his mother for killing his father with second-hand smoke. 
She made her Broadway debut in 1979 in the Marvin Hamlisch/Neil Simon musical They're Playing Our Song, creating the role of the wacky and impertinent Sonia Walsk. She's a would-be songwriter based on Hamlisch’s then girlfriend, Carol Bayer Sager. 
Arnaz’s extensive theatrical resume also includes roles in Seesaw, Annie Get Your Gun, Whose Life Is It Anyway?, The Guardsman, Cabaret, The Witches of Eastwick, Vanities, Lost in Yonkers, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and Master Class.Her CDs include Just in Time and Latin Roots, a big-band tribute to her Cuban father, Desi Arnaz.
She has been married to writer and Broadway actor Laurence Luckinbill since 1979, and they have three children. 
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Here are excerpts from our expansive interview with Arnaz: 
John Moore: I have a feeling your morning was more blood-pumping than mine. 
Lucie Arnaz: Well, I did my trapeze routine for the first time all the way from the beginning – and at the actual height – so that's good.

John Moore: Are you sore? 
Lucie Arnaz: I am getting less sore, but I certainly was hurting for the first two weeks. My body is actually getting really strong. All the girls who have done this part before me – Andrea Martin, Tovah Feldshuh, Annie Potts and Priscilla Lopez – they all said, 'You are going to be in the best shape you have ever been in your life.' And it’s true. It's like they are paying you to get really pumped. The first few weeks, this old body of mine was saying to me, 'You are trying to do what right now? You could have done this 35 years ago, you know. You don't want to do this now.' But the body adjusts. You pull this and you hurt that, but pretty soon you learn how to use it. It's fantastic exercise. My core strength is better than it has ever been. 
John Moore: I am guessing you have some pretty early memories of Pippin.  
Lucie Arnaz: Oh, yes. I knew the album by heart. 
John Moore: Do you remember your first impression of Pippin
Lucie Arnaz: I totally remember my first impression of Pippin. Bizarrely enough, I was in New York to see a friend of named Jim Bailey, the impressionist, open his show at the Empire Room at the Waldorf Astoria. And while I was in town, he said, 'Let's go see Bob Fosse’s new hit show, Pippin. So he took me, and wouldn’t you know, John Rubinstein was out that night. 

John Moore: He's the actor who originated the role of Pippin in 1972, and is now is performing alongside you in this revival as Pippin’s father, King Charlemagne.

Lucie Arnaz: And I didn't get to see John! But his standby was named Walter Willison, and I got to meet him after the show. I ended up going someplace for dinner with him and a bunch of other people. And do you know what? He stayed my friend for the next 45 years. He is still one of my dearest friends. So it's interesting that now I am getting to finally work with John. 
John Moore: It’s such a small world. 
Lucie Arnaz: Oddly enough, John was the original person cast in They're Playing Our Song to play Vernon Gersh. But his agent at the time completely screwed up the deal by asking for way more money than John told him to ask for. But Neil Simon isn't fond of negotiating. He just moved on to the next name on the list, and Robert Klein was it.

John Moore: So how cool is it that John Rubinstein is completing this circle by now playing Pippin's father? You say on your web site, ‘The history alone associated with his presence on stage with us is palpable.’

Lucie Arnaz: It's spooky crazy, isn't it? It's all very eerie and wonderful.
      
John Moore: Can you talk about why you wanted to do this role? 
Lucie Arnaz: They called me just a few weeks before we went into rehearsal, because I was out doing some concerts. (Producer) Barry Weissler called me himself and asked. At first we were talking about my doing a short period of time in the Broadway show. I had seen the show and loved it. I was actually a Tony Award voter in 2013, and I voted for Pippin for Best Revival of a Musical. So I am a big fan, and especially of this version of the show. It's just killer. But I also had just moved my entire life after 37 years on the East Coast. My husband, Larry Luckinbill, and I had just moved into our new house in Palm Springs, Calif. And we could not be happier living there. I mean, we were dancing around in joy. So then the call comes, and I was like, ‘What? I don't want to go back to New York now. But jeez, it's such a great show.' So Barry said, 'Well, how about if you do the tour? Because the tour goes to a lot of Western cities, and it will be easier on you.' But it's really not. When you are not home, you are not home, no matter if it's Vegas or Denver or wherever. So I said, 'Let me talk to Larry about it.' And I am telling you, it was hard. At one point, I was in tears, and I actually said, 'No, I, really can't do this.' I couldn't leave Larry. You know, he's no spring chicken. He is celebrating his 80th birthday this year (Nov. 21), and I want to be there for that. But then Barry said, ‘Maybe we can work it out if it's not for very long.’ Plus, it’s more fun to be a part of a tour that is just beginning. Everybody is learning it together. It's not like going into a Broadway show that's going full-steam and you have to learn everything from a stage manager and a dance captain in a rehearsal space somewhere and then boom – one night you’re on. That's how I went into My One and Only with Tommy Tune, and that's how I went into Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. The shows were great, but I haven't started from scratch with a company and headed out on the road like a circus troupe in years. 
John Moore: So how did you come to terms with taking the job?  
Lucie Arnaz: I said, 'You know what, Larry? I really want to do this.' And he goes, 'I know you do, and we'll be fine.’ My husband is an actor's actor. He totally gets it. So we’re doing it. And we're going to get through it. And I am going to enjoy it. 
John Moore: But it won’t be easy. 
Lucie Arnaz: It's never been easy. When I did My One and Only, it was the best show I had ever been in in my life. I was so proud of myself, especially with all of the tap dancing. But I had three young children at the time. I had two sons ages 3 and 5 back at home, and I actually traveled with my baby girl. Poor Larry had to schlep the kids back and forth all around the country to visit me. It was really hard. And yet, I was having a fantastic time on stage every night. There's always that push-pull.

John Moore: Ah, this will be a breeze compared to that.

Lucie Arnaz: Oh my God, yes ... and no. Those three minutes up there in that high thing without a net or a wire or anything hooking you on is … pretty wild.

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John Moore: And so how is your decision working out so far? 
Lucie Arnaz: It’s been great. There is such a wonderful camaraderie. I think because this show is about a troupe of players, we have to become very close-knit -- and we have. This is a fantastic group of people who are uniquely talented in ways I could never imagine in my life. I am in such awe. I sit there and I think of how lucky I am to be on the same stage with these people.
John Moore: When (Director Diane Paulus) talks about the theme of the show, she asks, ‘How far are you willing to go to be extraordinary?’ It sounds like that was the same opportunity Barry Weissler was offering you. When are you ever going to get a chance to do something like this again?

Lucie Arnaz: Exactly, and that’s why I said yes. When opportunity comes your way, you have to take it. I just thought, 'OK, I am going to put my hands in these professionals. They took a chance on me, and I am taking a chance on them, and I am going for it. And it's going to be fabulous.'

John Moore: So, about your character. How great is it to play this grandma who gets to tell Pippin how important it is to go out and enjoy life … while singing from a trapeze? 
Lucie Arnaz: Well, that's an interesting thing; because that's something different about the way the show is being done this time. In the original, Irene Ryan played Berthe, and she was in her late 70s. She really was a granny. I mean, she was the granny from The Beverly Hillbillies. She came out and sang her song every night and went away. She wasn’t in the rest of the show. Now the show has been reinvented, and it is set in the circus. So now are a troupe of players who are putting on a play this week called Pippin. Everyone has a role, and my character takeLucie_Arnaz_Pippin_3s the part of Pippin's grandmother. That song is still in the show, and there is a character called the Grandmother who sings it, but she's not actually that person. That said, it’s an incredible moment in the show just because eventually what I tell Pippin in this song is what he does eventually decide to do: Don’t expect fate to send you the perfect answer. Do something extraordinary that will make you happy. I say to him, ‘Enjoy life. It's short. Find somebody to love. Lie in the grass and eat the fruit.' And ultimately, that is what he chooses to do. But, oddly enough, I don't think that's what my character is trying to accomplish. I think her job as a troupe member is to convince him so we can get to the next scene, which is lying in the grass with the cute girl. It's all part of the plot. So she's actually part of the shenanigans that push him toward the big finish. 

John Moore: So you get a lot more stage time than Berthe did in the original production.

Lucie Arnaz: It's still a cameo role, but yes, I am on stage a lot. It's plenty. It’s great.

John Moore: You mentioned Irene Ryan and Andrea Martin and Annie Potts and Tovah Feldshuh. I mean, some pretty big names have preceded you. Is that in any way intimidating? 
Lucie Arnaz: Actually, I love the fact that so many people have wanted to do this before me. When they asked me, I sort of knew Tovah Feldshuh, so I called her and asked what it was like. And she said, ‘Oh my God, honey, you will love this. Grab it. Do it. You'll be in the best shape of your life. The company is fantastic.’ So I have no gumption about that kind of thing anymore. Show business is what it is.
                      
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John Moore: I got to see Marvin Hamlisch play at Red Rocks with Idina Menzel and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra shortly before his death. I am just wondering what your feelings are about his legacy and his impact on your life.

Lucie Arnaz: Humongous impact on my life. First of all, he was a personal friend. He was such a mentor. He helped me understand my voice. He helped me understand how to put a nightclub act together. How to do arrangements. Class act, all the way. I knew him from before They're Playing Our Song, but that show was just huge in my life. For the last seven or eight years of our lives together, Robert Klein and Marvin and I would go out and do symphony concerts, and we had the best time together. He was just the most generous, funniest man. He’s left a huge, gaping hole in my life.
John Moore: He would have loved seeing you work the trapeze. I can’t wait to see it.

Lucie Arnaz: I can't wait to see it myself. I am just trusting that each day will take care of itself, and 8 that o'clock will come on opening night, and I'll do it, and it'll be done, and it'll be great. And then I will look so much forward to it every day that I won't be able to wait to get to work.

John Moore: I think it's in your blood.

Lucie Arnaz: Awww.  It's absolutely in the blood. The bravery is in my blood. And the risk-taking and the comic timing is something that I hope I have learned from my mother … and so this is a good way to put it to use.   

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

Pippin at ASU Gammage Dec. 2-9, 2014. For tickets visits asugammage.com

The 'Pippin' Profiles: Why Stephen Schwartz ran off with the circus

The 'Pippin' Profiles: How Stephen Schwartz ran off with the circus

by John Moore | 
Pippin_Stephen_Schwartz_400
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 musical Pippin, 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 reimagined Pippin won the Tony Award for Best Musical Revival, and its new national touring production is 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 would be 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 of Pippin. 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 Pippin project 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 you are really looking at a retrospective of Fosse's life. And then you have the ‘Corner of the Sky” Pippin, the loving family man. That was absolutely the Stephen Schwartz 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.”
Schwartz concurs.

“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 to Wicked, 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. 
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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 last year very bravely resisted censorship on their production of Rent. And The Dramatists Guild, of which I am president, has honored her with a courage award. Now her troupe is doing Children 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.

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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 was Godspell 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. 

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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 these changes 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.

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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 thinking that it felt like this was a signature work for its time – which was the 1970s, and already had passed. 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.

Pippin_Stephen_Schwartz_Quote_4John 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. 
John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.
Stephen Schwartz: Major works
  • Butterflies are Free, 1969
  • Godspell, 1971
  • Mass 1971
  • Pippin, 1972
  • The Magic Show, 1974
  • The Baker’s Wife ,1976
  • The Perfect Peach (children’s book), 1977
  • Working ,1978 
  • Personals, 1985
  • Captain Louie (children’s show), 1986
  • Rags, 1986
  • Children of Eden, 1991
  • Pocahontas, 1995
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1996
  • Reluctant Pilgrim (CD of 11 songs), 1997
  • The Prince of Egypt, 1998
  • Geppetto 2000 (re-named My Son Pinocchio)
  • Uncharted Territory (CD of 11 songs), 2001
  • Wicked, 2003
  • Mit Eventyr/My Fairytale, 2005
  • Séance on a Wet Afternoon, 2009
Don't miss Pippin at ASU Gammage Dec. 2-9, 2014. For tickets visit asugammage.com

"The Pippin Profiles" series debuts: Circus Creator Gypsy Snider

To lifetime circus performer Gypsy Snider, "circus is like eating and sleeping and family." Photo courtesy Gypsy Snider. 
Note: "The Pippin Profiles" is a series of interviews by Arts Journalist John Moore with the "Pippin The Musical" cast and creative team leading up to the launch of the first national touring production in Denver on Sept. 6. First up: Circus Creator Gypsy Snider. 
In Pippin the Musical, a family of circus performers defies death to tell their story with every flip, tumble and mid-air spin.
The same is true of those actors performing in Pippin the Musical.
And the same has been true of Pippin Circus Creator Gypsy Snider since she began her career as a circus performer at the tender age of 4. 
With all respect to Stephen Schwartz, composer of Wicked and Pippin, Snider was defying gravity long before Elphaba was a green twinkle in his orchestral eye.
Snider’s parents are the founders of San Francisco’s pioneering Pickle Family Circus, an acclaimed alternative circus often cited as a primary influence on the creation of Cirque du Soleil. Snider is the co-founder of Montreal’s 7 Fingers (Les 7 doigts de la main), a pioneering form of live entertainment that has twice brought Traces to Denver. That innovative show used astonishing displays of athletic skill to tell the real-life stories of seven street teens.
Snider embraces circus as its own narrative storytelling form. Her brand of physical theatre requires strength, agility and grace.
Her upbringing was like no other. She grew up around the likes of circus legends Bill Irwin and Geoff Hoyle. She appeared among an entire town of street performers in Robert Altman's 1980 film Popeye. By 18, she was attending a physical-theater school in Switzerland.
She co-founded 7 Fingers in 2002 and, for her first foray into Broadway, she was called upon by Pippin Director Diane Paulus to help re-tell Schwartz’s iconic story of a young prince’s quest for meaning in life set within the world of circus. Pippin won the 2013 Tony Award for best musical revival. Its first national touring production launches at Denver’s Buell Theatre on Sept. 6.
Modern audiences who have a familiarity with circus generally think of Cirque du Soleil. But while Snider toured with Cirque and has a deep love for it, she says Pippin should not be mistaken for it. If anything, she said, it should evoke the old days of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.
“This is old-school, hard-core circus,” she said.

We’re talking juggling knives and swallowing fire.
“I would say that Cirque du Soleil is like the grandfather, and we are the rebellious teenagers,” she said.
Pippin culminates with a boy becoming a man, having to choose between a life of adventure or family. Snider has never had to pick  between the two – her small children are also embracing the circus life. But Snider’s life turned upside down in 2008, when she were diagnosed with advanced-stage colon cancer.
“It was definitely a life-changing experience,” she said. Much surgery, chemotherapy chemotherapy and radiation followed.
“Suddenly, my work felt trivial and my family became more important than ever before,” Snider said in a previous interview with Broadway Buzz. “I began to question how taxing show business can be and wondered if I should just move to the country and raise my two daughters in a stress-free environment, instead of in the glory of this wonderful but all consuming lifestyle. It was during this difficult time that Diane Paulus reached out to me about the possibility of collaborating on a new production of Pippin.”
And when she did, her charge to Snider was simple:
“Come make this thrilling.”
Here are more excerpts from our recent conversation with Snider for MyDenverCenter.Org. It took place just before rehearsals were to begin for the national touring production of Pippin as Snider and her family were visiting her parents' family retreat in the Berkshires.
The Broadway cast of "Pippin," above. The first national touring production of the iconic musical, with circus creations by Gypsy Snider, launches in Denver on Sept. 6. Photo by Joan Marcus. 
John Moore: When you brought Traces to Denver in 2011, could you have even imagined what your immediate future had in store for you?
Gypsy Snider: Actually, Denver plays a semi-big part in this. When I was working in Denver, I saw all of the other productions that were being staged there at the time. I remember sitting there watching the (Denver Center Theatre Company’s) A Midsummer Night's Dream. That’s when I knew that I wanted to get back to the States, that I wanted to work in the English language and that I wanted to work in the theatre. I remember saying that to (Denver Center for the Performing Arts President) Randy Weeks afterward. I got really excited about the possibilities from Denver on.
John Moore: How did the Pippin opportunity come about?
Gypsy Snider: My first conversation with (Director) Diane Paulus and (Producer) Barry Weissler coincided with Traces being in Denver. She had just done a Cirque production called Amaluna, so she was really starting to be familiar with the Montreal circus scene. She had already seen tons of videos of things we had done. Barry had been following us for several years. At my first meeting with him in New York, I was like, 'What am I doing? How did I end up here?’ But Barry said, ‘Look, I don't know what to do with you. But I know that I love what you do.’ And so, he continued to follow our shows. Later on, when Diane said, ‘I think we need to put circus into the Pippin story,’ Barry said, ‘How about Gypsy? And she said, 'I totally know who you are talking about.’ And so then they sent me the script.
John Moore: I read somewhere that you had never seen Pippin before.

Gypsy Snider: No, I had not. Maybe I had remotely heard the music, but I didn't associate it with the story. So I read the book and … it’s a very strange piece of literature. But I fell in love with it. I instantly knew what I wanted to do with it. I read it in one hour in my bed and I just … knew. When I met with Diane, I rambled on and on. I had no idea what I was getting into. But she was sold.

John Moore: Sounds to me like you are the rambling river in that story.
Gypsy Snider: Oh, Diane Paulus is a big river instigator. She saw my enthusiasm. And when she feels someone has an idea that is flowing, she does an incredible job of pushing that flow and guiding that flow.
John Moore: What specifically did you bring to the creative conversation?
Gypsy Snider: At 7 Fingers, we have a way of bringing emotion and texture into acrobatics. In a way, I think the passion and the theatricality that circus brings to it quickly became the backbone of this new project. Of course, Bob Fosse and Stephen Schwartz are the backbone of Pippin. But in terms of rejuvenating it, the circus became the backbone of doing it this way.  
John Moore: What was it like high-flying into the world of the original Pippin choreographer, the late Bob Fosse?
Gypsy Snider: I was fascinated to learn the extent to which Bob Fosse was a huge influence on my career -- unbeknown to me. There is a kind of sexuality and a violence in his artwork that I always need whenever I am creating a show. I know that sex and violence sells TV shows, but Fosse really criticized the entertainment industry for the addictive and seductive nature of sexuality and violence in entertainment. I don't mean to go off on a crazy tangent, but if we are talking about seducing Pippin into a living a more extraordinary life by luring him into something that could be potentially fatal … that’s the entertainment industry. In that way, we are really looking at a retrospective of Fosse's life. That's what I found so, so fascinating about it. And then there 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, amazingly, through this production. He's just so positive and so hard-working.
John Moore: How do you think Bob Fosse would have liked the idea of setting Pippin in a circus?
Gypsy Snider: I feel like Bob Fosse would have wanted us to do this, and that he would have done it himself if this were available to him at the time. Maybe not to this extent, but …  it was there. It was already there in the words.
John Moore: With this reimagined version of Pippin – both setting it in the circus and, more tellingly, in consideration of the life choice Pippin faces in the end – it seems to me as if maybe Diane Paulus is saying that Pippin is you.
Gypsy Snider: I think so. Diane and I are both the same age, and we both have two daughters. We have discussed on a very personal level the seduction of the business and this balance you try to achieve, being professional women who have families. It’s really like we are the Catherines -- but we are also being seduced like the Pippins.  It was interesting for both of us how we connected on an emotional level to this musical. Pippin has this choice to make, and one of them it to embrace this simple home life with an older woman and her child living out in the country where there is no magic and there is no makeup -- which is something Fosse presented in a very boring, very pejorative manner. And yet here I am talking to you right now while I am out here in the country with my children -- and I love it. But I also love my work. I feed on it so much, and I am proud to show my children how passionate I am about my work.

John Moore: For 40 years, both audiences and writers alike have argued whether the ending to Pippin is a tragedy ... or a compromise ... or a perfect, happy ending. I imagine, given your life story, that you are split right down the middle.

Gypsy Snider: I am split down the middle. For me, circus is like eating and sleeping and family. It's my brother; it's my mother; it's my father. Just talking about it makes me so emotional. There were maybe a few moments in my life when I felt like walking away from it, or perhaps trying something totally different. Circus is a very physically demanding life. It's a very itinerant life. And when my kids started going to school, I was like, ‘What am I doing?’ But circus is my family, too. Sometimes I like to think of it as the mafia because it's a very closed, tight-knit circle. But the reason is because there is so much danger and risk and sacrifice involved. True circus people know each other, and there is a whole sort of respect and value system to it that is so honorable and so genuine and so truthful. To true circus people, there is no nonsense. There is no competition. There is no, 'I am better than you are.' There is no, 'I am going to be a star, but you are not going to be a star.' Each individual circus performer is absolutely unique, and that uniqueness is valued. There is no one way to do anything. Unfortunately, it's not like dance. To survive in the dance world, you have to sacrifice so much of your individuality and soul. Everyone wants to play Romeo, for example. In circus, that is not ever an issue. People don't compare themselves. There is somehow a place for everyone. 
John Moore: How do you feel about getting the whole Pippin creative team together and doing this all over again with a new cast?
Gypsy Snider: Diane, (Choreographer Chet Walker) and I have been talking about how exciting it is going to be to get back in the room.  I am feeling like this is going to be an incredible reunion for all three of us.
John Moore: Well, then … welcome in advance to Denver.
Gypsy Snider: I am so excited.  There is a place in Denver that sells poutine (gravy fries with cheese curds), so I am definitely looking forward to that.
John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.
Coming up on the Pippin Profiles:   
  • Choreographer Chet Walker
  • Director Diane Paulus
  • Composer Stephen Schwartz
  • Plus ... select members of the acting company

Pippin: Ticket information
Dec. 2-9, 2014
Tickets visit asugammage.com

Saturday, November 1, 2014

ASU GAMMAGE SET TO HOST GO GAGA

ASU GAMMAGE SET TO HOST GO GAGA
SATURDAY, MARCH 7, 2015
FINAL GALA TO CELEBRATE 50th ANNIVERSARY

 On Saturday, March 7 ASU Gammage, the largest university-based presenter of performing arts in the world and top touring market for Broadway is set to hold its third and final Gala at the Arizona Biltmore Resort. The Gala has sold out the last two years and the final event will be the largest and grandest to celebrate the theater’s Golden Anniversary.

Invited guests will enjoy a gold-studded event with celebrity entertainment, cocktails, dinner, and special Broadway performances. 

 “ASU Gammage turns 50 and I believe President Gammage and Frank Lloyd Wright’s dream about a magnificent theater to house the world's best art and culture for the community has come to fruition, it’s now my job along with the help of community donors and patrons to ensure ASU Gammage's future stays bright for the next 50 years," says Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director at ASU Gammage.

 “As I embark on my third year as chair, this event will be the grandest of all, and we are excited to host the event at the Arizona Biltmore to highlight both Valley icons with Frank Lloyd Wright ties," says Leslie Rich, Gala Co-chair.


 If you are interested in attending GO GAGA, please contact Julie Mate at 480.965.5062. Tables start at $5,000.

Friday, October 10, 2014

2014-2015 GAMMAGE GOERS ANNOUNCED

VALLEY RESIDENTS SET TO REVIEW ASU GAMMAGE BROADWAY PRODUCTIONS

ASU Gammage has selected its 2014-2015 season of Gammage Goers, seven Broadway theater lovers and savvy social media users to are of the sixth season of the program. Goers will review shows and then spread their reviews through their social media outlets.

The Goers were chosen from a pool of more than 200 applicants who applied based on their interest in Broadway and their social media expertise.

 “This program has been a great success for us, everyone is using social media to share great restaurants, stores and things to do, this is a great way for social media savvy residents help spread the ASU Gammage message,” says Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director of ASU Gammage. “We want their reviews to be honest and unbiased, we of course hope their experience is positive and they will encourage their friends to see a show as well.”

Gammage Goer reviews will be posted via the ASU Gammage Facebook, Twitter and You Tube pages as well as on the Goers accounts. Goers can also be followed with the hashtag #GammageGoers. Each Goer will review approximately three shows per ASU Gammage season.

The Goers include:

Margie (@mka19), business owner from Phoenix

Doug (@Dougmummert), Public Affairs officer from Phoenix

David ( @appleforddavid), Film and Theatre Critic from Awhatukee

Courtney (@cjrainville), Marketing Account Manager and former “The Biggest Loser contestant from Tempe

Kate (@kateesitter), ASU student from Phoenix

Abbie (@AbbieF), Public Relations professional from Scottsdale

Jennifer (@jennmaggiore), Marketing CEO from Scottsdale

Saturday, October 4, 2014

TICKETS FOR ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER’S THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA GO ON SALE OCTOBER 6

TICKETS FOR
ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER’S THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
IN A SPECTACULAR NEW PRODUCTION BY CAMERON MACKINTOSH
GO ON SALE OCTOBER 6
TEMPE PREMIERE ENGAGEMENT AT ASU GAMMAGE
MAY 27-JUNE 7, 2015

 Cameron Mackintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group’s spectacular new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA will go on sale October 6  for the premiere Tempe engagement at ASU Gammage  With newly reinvented staging and stunning scenic design, this new version of PHANTOM, the most successful musical of all-time, will be performed by a cast and orchestra of 52, making this one of the largest productions on tour in North America. To purchase tickets, visit asugammage.com or visit the ASU Gammage Box Office.

Andrew Lloyd Webber said, “It’s wonderful to have a new production of PHANTOM touring America now that the show has celebrated over 25 years on Broadway. Director Laurence Connor has done an amazing job and this production has received huge critical acclaim in the UK.”

 
Cameron Mackintosh said, ''After a glorious celebration of 25 phenomenal years on Broadway with no end in sight, I'm delighted to be able to bring this dazzling new production of PHANTOM -- which has been phenomenally well-received by both audiences and critics in the U.K this past year  -- to North America.  With an exciting new design and staging, retaining Maria Björnson’s amazing costumes, I am confident North American audiences will fall in love with the PHANTOM in his new guise -- for the first time or all over again.”

 This new production of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is directed by Laurence Connor (the 25th Anniversary production of Les Misérables now on Broadway) with choreography by Scott Ambler, set design by Paul Brown, Tony Award-winning original costume design by Maria Björnson, lighting design by Tony Award-winner Paule Constable, sound design by Mick Potter and musical supervision by John Rigby. The production is overseen by Matthew Bourne and Cameron Mackintosh.  THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA has music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; lyrics are by Charles Hart (with additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe) and the book is by Richard Stilgoe and Andrew Lloyd Webber.  Orchestrations are by David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
 
There are currently seven productions of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA around the world: the flagship London production (27 Years and counting), New York (26 Years and counting), Sapporo (Japan, 25 Years and counting, in repertory), Budapest (Hungary), Hamburg (Germany), the Asian Pacific Tour (now in South Korea) and Cameron Mackintosh’s spectacular all-new production now on North American Tour.  The next international opening will be in Taipei, China in September 2014.
 THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is also the most successful entertainment venture of all time, with revenues higher (at $6 billion) than any film or stage play in history, including Titanic, Star Wars and far surpassing the world’s highest-grossing film Avatar (at $2.8 billion).
 Worldwide, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA has played over 65,000 performances that have been seen by 130 million people in 30 countries and 152 cities in 13 languages. The show has won more than 70 major theater awards.
 There have been three previous U.S. National Tours of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA that grossed over $1.5 billion in combined box office sales and played 216 engagements in 77 cities for an unprecedented total of 36 years and over 14,500 performances to 31 million people.
 Based on the classic novel Le Fantôme de L’Opéra by Gaston Leroux, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA tells the story of a masked figure who lurks beneath the catacombs of the Paris Opera House, exercising a reign of terror over all who inhabit it.  He falls madly in love with an innocent young soprano, Christine, and devotes himself to creating a new star by nurturing her extraordinary talents and by employing all of the devious methods at his command.

PERFORMANCE TIMES ARE: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m.
                                                     Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m.
                                                     Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m.