“Join us," the first words in the musical Pippin, invite its audience into a thrilling journey. But it takes more than words to draw a crowd into the show.
That’s exactly what director and choreographer Carol Schuberg hopes to do. By fusing costumes, set design, lighting, choreography and ensemble character work, she and the rest of the cast and crew of Pippin at Stephens College are creating an extravagant show — one that both pays homage to the original production and makes something entirely new.
“What we have is this wonderful group of students and professionals that are, in 2019, making our Pippin very relevant and very fresh,” Schuberg says.
Pippin is more personal for Schuberg. She's setting the show in a circus sideshow environment, which allows her to express her love for the circus and pass on her knowledge of circus performing and the choreography of Bob Fosse.
She says what really brings the circus to life is the many talents of the performers in the cast. Together, they’re pulling Fosse’s choreography style from the original Broadway production of Pippin in 1972 and merging it with the more Cirque du Soleil-inspired revival of the show in 2013.
“I’m fusing both the original and the revival together, and ours is unique in that I am pulling from the talents of all of my cast,” Schuberg says. “We’ve got a hula hoop artist; we’ve got a flagging artist; we’ve got acrobats; we’ve got incredible dancers; we’ve got a gal who dances en pointe. So we’re drawing from them to make our circus troupe.”
To create a more dimensional show, Schuberg encouraged each ensemble member to create their own character backstory about how they came to join the circus. The creative freedom combined with the spontaneous nature of the sideshow theme makes for a wildly fun and diverse cast of characters.
Alan Toney, a member of the ensemble, saw his grunge costume, featuring a leather jacket and skinny jeans, and built a sly rocker character from the get-up. He says the rest of the cast is doing the same.
“That’s kind of the root of the whole show, really,” Toney says. “Everyone is different, and everyone has their own personal self. The more I dance in my costume and really get into character, the more I am able to establish myself.”
Toney is a newcomer to the Stephens theater department. As a freshman theater major, he heard from a friend that Stephens was looking for male actors for its latest show. When he learned the show was Pippin, he was thrilled. He saw the national tour of the show with his mom, and it has been his favorite musical ever since.
Coming into a new theater department was daunting, but Toney says the family feel of the cast has calmed his nerves.
“I feel like the more they learned the flow and the more they learned the dances and the more we connected as an ensemble together, we really established relationships,” Toney says. “I knew this was a show that took a lot, and it’s really big. But I feel like we’re doing it so well and with such great people and such a good technical team, we’re all working together to really tell the story.”
Having Schuberg at the helm also helps, Toney says.
“Throughout Pippin, she incorporates a lot of the motifs and symbolism of the original show and the revival with Patina Miller," Toney says. "She’s really morphing the two. She’s pulling a lot out of us to make sure it meets the stakes of what Pippin is supposed to be. I’m very inspired by her.”