In the story of King Charlemagne and his son, Pippin must decide between continuing his father’s legacy and enjoying the simple pleasures in life. “Pippin” was the creation of musical composer Stephen Schwartz, who was fascinated by the son of Charlemagne who never rose to glory or fame. Mia Walker, the tour director, talked to HOME about why “Pippin” is special, not just in her heart but
What do you think makes “Pippin” special?
All the music is timeless. The songs became part of popular culture, similar to how people who don’t normally pay attention to musical theater are now listening to “Hamilton.” “Pippin” achieved that incredible feat where the music from the musical can actually enter into pop culture. So, No. 1, I think the music made it timeless. And then, I think the story of a person who is searching for meaning in life is so timeless, so universal, that “Pippin” just sort of sticks around.
It’s a show that invites diversity; it’s a show that embraces change. Even now, as we’re rehearsing, we’re realizing that this show is even more relevant than ever during this time of political unrest and our country questioning its values and its belief systems. The show definitely has a political edge and it remains relevant and contemporary, so there’s a way in which “Pippin” can be done and done and done over and over again, year after year, and not feel dated.
Why did you want to be involved in the production?
When the revival production was originally staged in 2013, I was the assistant director. The director of that production, Diane Paulus, won the Tony for best director of this revival. I was deeply involved in the creation of this revival. When it came time for this tour to go out and I was presented with the opportunity to actually be the tour director, I jumped at it. This piece was so close to my heart. It was done at a time where I was just out of school and I was totally going through what Pippin was going through: searching for my own meaning and purpose in life. The show really resonated with me. I was so present for the creation of it that I felt confident in my ability to translate that vision to a new cast and then a new company.
What’s challenging about bringing the script to life?
I think there’s the challenge of keeping it emotional, because there is a very movement-based rhythm to the show. But, the core of it is the story about a boy who’s looking for meaning in life and encounters adventure and has to decide what he wants and the important thing is that the audience feels empathy for this character, identifies with this character, goes along for the ride. [The original Broadway director] was radical in the sense that when he choreographed shows, he didn’t just have the chorus of dancers and the principal actors. Everyone on stage had a life and inner life, a purpose, a history [and] past relationships with other people on stage, and that actually is very much part of Diane Paulus’ aesthetic, which is that everyone on stage has meaning and purpose and individuality. The challenge of this production is to resist any notion of a mass of people who are just on stage doing dance moves, and it really has to actually resonate emotionally with the audience.
What will the audience be thinking about on their way home from
I don’t know! My hope is that audiences will take the show with them and have the music in their heads and feel touched by Pippin’s story. Perhaps it’ll make them question their own lives — areas in their life where they feel they might have settled. My mother is in her fifties, and she just made a complete career change. She’s always wanted to be a writer, and now she’s actually doing it. I think about how it’s never too late to — this might sound cliché but — pursue your dreams and do what you’ve always felt you needed to do to be extraordinary, to follow your calling. It’s never too late to do that. For people who watch the show and are young and coming of age, hopefully this show will give them the bravery to make choices in life and commit to those choices. It will inspire older audiences to feel they still have life left. In one part of the show, Pippin reunites with his grandmother and she basically reminds him that life is worth living. She says this beautiful thing, “I believe if I refuse to grow old, I can stay young ‘til I die.” I think that’s a really beautiful message that a lot of audiences will connect to: this idea that you have one life.
How far will Pippin go to be extraordinary? Find out at the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on February 19, 2017.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.performingarts.ufl.edu or call the box office at (352) 392-2787.