Like its title character, ‘Pippin’ evolving with each act

In spring musical, actors, musicians, technical elements weave intricate story to create standout show

Last Thursday marked the first of eight runs of MacTheater’s spring musical, Pippin. Following an acting troupe and narrated by Leading Player (senior Lauren Ryan-Holt), the play-within-a-play chronicles the “life and times” of Pippin (junior Henry Mayes), the son of King Charlemagne (senior Nick Boehle) as he tries to find fulfillment in his life.

Pippin’s first attempt at achieving meaning and purpose is to go to war and fight in his father’s army alongside his half-brother Lewis (junior Finn Griffith). He finds, however, that he isn’t suited for bloodshed and violence and instead flees to the countryside to visit his grandmother, Berthe (senior Charlotte Blackmon). Pippin expresses his worries about his future and the momentary nature of life, to which Berthe tells him to live in the moment and experience the richness that life has to offer. Pippin takes this to heart as he embarks on a series of sexual escapades until he realizes that fleeting relationships will ultimately fail to satisfy his desire for purpose.

Leading Player steps in to offer Pippin guidance, suggesting that fulfillment could be found in rebelling against his father and siding with the peasants against Charlemagne’s tyranny. Pippin returns home and plots to take down his father, delighting his stepmother Fastrada (junior Ellie Loudermilk) as she wishes to move Lewis up in the line of succession.

When Pippin realizes holding the throne will only lead to more inner conflict, he leaves the castle and collapses on the side of the road, where he is found and taken in by a lonely widow named Catherine (senior Savannah Chaverria). As Act II begins, the blossoming relationship between the two takes the story off of the acting troupe’s usual script, much to Leading Player’s disdain.

To find out where Pippin’s quest ends, purchase tickets for upcoming shows Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

We are pleased to present some of the best photos from dress rehearsals and this past weekend’s run of Pippin in this week’s Tuesday Top 10.

WORTH THE WORK: During the final rehearsal before the big show, senior Lauren Ryan-Holt (Leading Player) and junior Henry Mayes (Pippin) begin to perform “On the Right Track.” The cast and crew had been practicing the musical since October, but it wasn’t until last Thursday that the show finally came to life.

“This process has been absolutely worth it,” Mayes said. “Pippin has been one of the best productions I’ve gotten to be a part of.”

The production of Pippin has left Mayes with many pleasant memories.

“It’s hard to pinpoint my favorite experience from working on the show,” Mayes said, “but there is no feeling quite like performing with the amazing cast and crew. We have done a great job with working together and making every show better than the last.”

Caption by JoJo Barnard. Photo by Gergő Major.

DOWN TO A SCIENCE: Senior Nick Boehle (King Charles) performs “War is a Science,” in which he briefs his soldiers on what to expect for their upcoming battle against the Visigoths. Charles has just reluctantly allowed Pippin to join him in battle despite his lack of experience in combat. For Boehle, this number was an important moment to highlight his character’s values.

“As someone who’s not much of an actor, it kind of took a little bit of time and direction to form this character,” Boehle said. “It’s a lot of ideas of a character meshed into one.”

But after much work with scene partners and assistant director senior Finn Sewell McCann, Boehle feels confident in his performance.

“I think I’m able to be comfortable with the character on stage now,” Boehle said.

Reporting by Alice Scott. Photo by Gergő Major.

PERFORMING FROM THE PIT-PIN: The pit orchestra performs during a Pippin dress rehearsal. Junior cellist Mateo Jones said that the Pippin music is different from anything he has ever played. Pippin swings and rocks, but it also demands a strong connection between the actors on stage and the musicians in the pit.

“You have to actually pay attention to what’s going on on the stage in order to play in the right places,” Jones said. “My favorite part has been the part of the musical where the leading player tells us to stop playing our instruments because it’s funny every time to have that fourth wall break.”

According to Jones, musicians in the pit must have their eyes on the conductor at all times in order to keep up with the fast-changing music. Throughout many weeks of rehearsals, Jones has grown close to the other students in the pit. For him, watching all the different fine arts strands play a role in producing Pippin has been an eye-opening experience.

“It’s cool to be immersed in the other aspects of the fine arts program and create something that incorporates all the best parts of the program.”

Caption by Ingrid Smith. Photo by Noah Braun.

AIN’T NO SUNSHINE: Gliding through the air, junior Ellie Loudermilk (Fastrada) performs the number “Spread a Little Sunshine,”  in which her character’s true motives are revealed.

“​​That specific move is to show off all of Fastrata’s assets that allow her to manipulate the king and Pippin,” Loudermilk said.

In the song, Fastrada, stepmother to Pippin and wife to King Charles, facilitates events that will allow for her son, Lewis, to become next in line for the throne.

“Spread a little sunshine is a number where you get to truly see the mastermind at work,” Loudermilk said. “In the song, she convinces Pippin to kill his father so her darling son can become king. I like the number because I feel like I’m letting the audience into the secret, or rather to the master plan.”

For Loudermilk, this number is the pinnacle of Fastrada’s storyline and allows the audience to understand what makes her character tick.

“Fastrata is the calculated stepmother that uses her body to get what she wants, mostly from King Charles,” Loudermilk said. “The only people she cares about are her son Lewis and, above all, herself.”

Reporting by Alice Scott. Photo by Gergő Major.

SETTING THE STAGE: Senior Lauren Ryan-Holt (Leading Player) welcomes the audience in the show’s opening number, “Magic to Do.”  As a play within a play, Pippin has many layers to it, including the opening number which is performed as if the cast members were arriving at rehearsal and setting up for the top of the show

“It’s the cast’s musical bait to the audience,” Ryan-Holt said. “We’re luring them into the production we’re about to put on. We describe the journey and all the magical, fantastic things that will take place along the way. We literally set the stage for both the show and the audience’s expectations.”

Ryan-Holt opens the number and leads the other ensemble members until the song turns into a fully choreographed number. For Ryan-Holt, however, the opening seductive chords are her favorite part.

“There’s just something so mystical and enticing about how it sounds,” Ryan-Holt said. “It’s the one part where you can feel the full focus of the audience.”

Reporting by Alice Scott. Photo by Gergő Major.

IT’S TIME TO START LIVIN’: Senior Charlotte Blackmon (Berthe) performs “No Time At All” and explains to her grandson Pippin the importance of living in the moment and not letting life pass you by. Blackmon especially enjoys the vibrant energy of the song and the participation that it invites from the audience.

“It’s a super fun song on its own, and the choreography that we do just makes it even more fun to perform,” Blackmon said. “There are people dancing with showgirl fans and people tap dancing and the audience even gets to sing along during the chorus.”

The song reflects one of the central ideas of the musical: finding purpose and living a meaningful life. While it’s a crucial realization moment for the characters and key in progressing the plot, for Blackmon, “No Time At All” was special for a different reason.

“In the past, I’ve gotten to dance in the ensemble, and I’ve gotten to have my solo moments, but this is the first time that I’ve fully been able to do both of those things in the same show,” Blackmon said.

As the first weekend’s run of shows comes to an end, Blackmon hopes the cast continues to improve in the final four.

“Throughout the entire process, we never stop growing,” Blackmon said. “Personally, I missed one of my lines during a performance, and my main goal moving forward is to make sure that I don’t miss that line again and that I continue to keep track of all my costume pieces so that I can be ready for every entrance.”

Caption by Francie Wilhelm. Photo by Maggie Mass.

DANCING THE KNIGHT AWAY: Senior Lauren Ryan-Holt (Leading Player) and sophomore dancer Zalie Mann (right) perform ‘Glory.’

For Mann, one of the main dancers in the show, the numbers weren’t only about impressing the audience but telling the story in a unique way as well.

“I absolutely love all the dances,” Mann said. “It’s such a crowd pleaser, and every night it gets more and more fun because we can play around with it more.”

The whole ‘Pippin’ experience has proved to be more than just a school musical for Mann.

“It’s such an honor to be a part of the show, and I can’t express how grateful I am to all the family, friends, and choreographers who helped me to get to this spot.” Mann said. “Although it’s exhausting, I love it so much and the experience is unlike any other.

The cast will perform their show four more times this upcoming week, featuring their crowd-wooing dance numbers.

“Bolero, the duet right before the love song is one of my favorites.” Mann said. “I get to spin around in a fancy dress, and it’s a crowd pleaser but I absolutely love all the dances.”

Caption and photo by Chloe Lewcock.

RENAISSANCE WOMAN: Junior Meredith Grotevant warms up before a dress rehearsal run of Pippin. Throughout the show, Grotevant plays five different instruments, including acoustic guitar, electric guitar, banjo, mandolin and ukelele for the pit orchestra.

“When I agreed to play in the pit, I thought I was just playing guitar,” Grotevant said. “Then the next day I was in jazz band and Ms. Nelson came up to me and she said ‘So the thing is, there are five different instruments on the book.’ She started listing them and I realized that I had at least a little bit of experience playing all of them. It was a little bit scary at first because guitar is my main instrument, and I’m not professional with the other ones, but I had them all at home and I was more than willing to learn.”

Last year, Grotevant had intended to be in the pit orchestra for the spring musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, but the production decided against having a live orchestra due to COVID safety concerns. This year, Grotevant made sure to be involved.

“Last year I learned half the music over the winter break and then when we got back, they said there’ll be no pit due to COVID,” Grotevant said, “so that was a little bit of a bummer, but I was really excited for whatever the spring musical was going to end up being this year. I really wanted to see what being in the pit would be like. I like to try new things and expand my musical abilities and I thought that this would be a really good opportunity to be in like high-quality production with MacTheatre around a bunch of other great musicians doing something fun.”

Reporting by Alice Scott. Photo by Noah Braun.

WITH OR WITHOUT YOU: Freshman Samari Davis performs “With You” with junior Henry Mayes (Pippin). The dance-heavy number is another one of the titular character’s fleeting attempts to find fulfillment in life.

“Pippin realizes it’s time to live a little and is on a journey to find himself,” Davis said. “Within that journey, he starts to explore his sexuality, which leads to the song ‘With You.’ The song starts off sweet and innocent with these girls slowly seducing him but later in the song more people join in the dance, and it gets more and more intense until Pippin shuts it down.”

“With You” in particular, relies heavily on choreography to tell the story of Pippin’s quest to build a meaningful life.

“My favorite part of doing this show has probably been learning and performing the choreography,” Davis said. “Bob Fosse, who originally choreographed the show, is such an important person in the dance and musical theatre world so it’s very important for us that we portray his style in the best way.”

Davis is one of many featured dancers and ensemble members that reappear throughout the show’s many numbers.

“Throughout the show, my role along with everyone is just to help lead Pippin on his journey,” Davis said.

Reporting by Alice Scott. Photo by Maggie Mass.

PIP PIP HOORAY: After auditions, rehearsals, costume fittings, and numerous late nights the curtain closes and the cast take a bow to close out the opening night of ‘Pippin.’ The show revolves around the main character, Pippin who searches for his meaning in life and gets to experience unique opportunities hoping to find what he is meant to be doing.

Junior Henry Mayes, who plays the role of Pippin describes the energy that the cast had opening night, anxiously awaiting the opportunity to perform for the audience.

“We finally were able to share this story with an audience, and that feeling was unmatched on opening night.” Mayes said. “My role in the show as Pippin is not only to play a character searching for his meaning in life but also to represent everyone in the audience and invoke emotions of when they were passionate to find their meaning in life.”

While the audience got to see the polished, perfected, and well rehearsed version of the show, behind the scenes the cast had a lot of mental preparation that went into opening night

“I think the hardest thing about opening night is the nerves.” Mayes said. “Everyone wants the show to go smoothly and there is a lot of anticipation on opening night.”

The show was not only an opportunity for the cast to show off their work, but also bond with the audience.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better opening night, it went amazing.” Mayes said. “We told our story and I think it really connected with the audience.”

Photo and reporting by Chloe Lewcock.

THE BIG ‘FINALE: Members of the Pippin ensemble perform “Finale” during last Friday’s show. During this piece, the Leading Player’s true intentions are revealed as she urges Pippin to give up his life for the epic climax of her show.

“The whole time she [Leading Player] has served as a narrator character and only starts to directly intervene in the story during Act II,” junior ensemble member Ava Deviney said.

For Deviney, conveying the importance of this critical moment of the show meant focusing on her facial expressions.

“I get to go full crazy,” Deviney said “I definitely put on the lunatic eyes and smile because I am so excited to see [Pippin] burn in fire.”

According to Deviney, the advanced technical elements and sheer size of the production have made Pippin a MacTheatre musical like no other.

“This show is probably the largest-scale project we have taken on while I have been at school,” Deviney said. “It’s such a grand show and needs a lot of work put into it from every department to have it come together in the right way.”

The crew of Pippin features students and teachers from all areas of the fine arts academy, but to Deviney, this collaboration sticks out most in the full orchestra pit. While last year’s fall production of SpongeBob the Musical featured a handful of Mac orchestra members, Pippin also includes instrumental students from the classical guitar and band programs.

“It’s great to finally have live music again, but we also are still adjusting to each other as performing now requires so much more syncing than anyone is used to,” Deviney said.

Caption by Francie Wilhelm. Photo by Chloe Lewcock.

This story was originally published on The Shield Online on January 31, 2023.