A play in a play

The story of Pippin skews the audiences perspective with satire, spectacle, the art of trapeze and pyrotechnics

Posted: Thursday, February 23, 2006

When "Pippin" opened on Broadway on Oct. 23, 1972, in the thick of the Vietnam War, it was heralded for its anti-war, anti-establishment sentiments.

Three decades later, the political overtones are still relevant. But the strength of the show is the liberty it allows for spectacle.

"Pippin," as presented by Juneau-Douglas High School, includes pyrotechnics, trapeze, a cast of more than 50, a 16-player pit orchestra and an acrobatic, sculptural dance style.



High School

When: 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, Feb. 24-25 and March 3-4; 2 p.m. Saturdays, Feb. 25 and March 4

Where: JDHS auditorium

Tickets: In advance, $8 for adults, $6 for students and available at Hearthside Books. $2 more at the door.

Cast & Crew

Book and lyrics - Roger O. Hirson

Music - Stephen Schwartz


(in order of appearance)

Leading player - Zak Kirkpatrick

Pippin - Justin Sanbei

Charlemagne - Mike Fishel

Lewis - Liam Campbell

Fastrada - Giselle Stone

Berthe - Erika Rothchild

Catherine - Clairen Stone

Theo - Ian Andrews

Band of players

Beatriz Abella; Jack Adams; Malcolm Barril; Raleigh Bartholomew; Alexandra Brown; Gus Browning; Hillary Buck; Andria Budbill; Nathan Caldwell; Edmar Carrillo; Jazmin Cherian; Kai Christian; Sarah Everett; Samantha Eyre; Anne Gissel; Michaela Goade; Alex Griffin; Stephanie Hinckle; Aubrey Hulse; Sonne Kyle-Olsen; Sean Lindsay; Kary Lu; Vernadette Lumbab; Sara Manning; Pedro Mojica; Travis Monagle; Brianna Nelson; Libby Parker; Sara Quinn; Chelsea Rothchild; Carleton Shorey; Evan Thibodeau; Gabrielle Vance; Cortney Wagner; Lars Waldo; Deven Walker; Kael Wanamaker; Clay Wertheimer; Meagan Wiley; Katie Willis; Mary Joy Yadao; Emily Yost; Grant Zwingelberg

Production staff

Producer/artistic director - Bethany Bereman

Director - Ryan Conarro

Choreographer - Becky Engstrom

Musical director - Ken Guiher

Vocal director - Richard Moore

Set design - Sheila Wyne

Lighting and special effects - Art Rotch

Costume design - Laraine Derr

Properties design - Sarah Conarro

Hair and make-up design - Heather Sincic

Director Ryan Conarro saw a professional production of "Pippin" when he was in high school. The performance was one of the contributing factors in his decision to pursue a career in theater.

"It really offers the opportunity to go into an exciting theatrical spectacle," Conarro said. "It's all about putting on a show. You have license to do really fun things with dancing, pyrotechnics and trapeze. But at the same time, it's a story about human relationships and how important they are in the end."

The story unfurls as a play within a play. The Leading Player (Zak Kirkpatrick), an omniscient magician narrator, is a sort of circus ringleader who sets up the story, talks directly to the audience and attempts to influence Pippin's actions.

Prince Pippin (Justin Sanbei), son of Charlemagne (Mike Fishel), is looking for his place in the world and wants to join his father in battle. His step-mother, Fastrada (Giselle Stone), hopes he will die so her son Lewis (Liam Campbell) can become king.

Pippin discovers he doesn't like battle and travels into the countryside. His grandmother, Berthe (Erika Rothchild), encourages him to take advantage of his youth. He does, but soon tires of frivolity.

Eventually, the Leading Player convinces Pippin to lead a revolution against Charlemagne. Pippin takes over as king after the coup, but the power corrupts him. He takes exile, where he meets a widow (Clairen Stone) and her young son (Ian Andrews).

"The Leading Player is what he is, he's a leading player," senior Giselle Stone said. "He's the puppeteer of all these characters, and all the players underneath him are the puppets that are enticing Pippin to make his choices in life.

"It's a very rite of passage story. He's going through life and he's finding things. He's running into things that he doesn't feel any fulfillment with and he keeps trying and trying. The story is basically about him growing up and realizing what's important in life."

"Each person has their own agenda," Kirkpatrick said. "I try to lead Pippin through his life, but I don't necessarily control everything he does, or I would get my way in the end. Ultimately, Pippin makes his own decision and I'm not too happy about it."

"A lot of the story is that sometimes sharing the simple things like love or a child is more important than being noticed by the entire world and being this big famous person," Sanbei said.

The Broadway version of "Pippin" ran 1,944 times and was directed by legendary dance choreographer Bob Fosse. Juneau's Becky Engstrom has added her own style to his production. One of the opening numbers includes trapeze, with the bar six feet off the stage. There's also a 10-foot acrobatic ladder, with dancers balancing at the top. Engstrom has also taught the students a dance style called Pilabolus, a combination of balancing and long, sculptural movement.

The cast includes just more than 50 actors. There's a pit orchestra, directed by JDHS band teacher Ken Guiher, of about 16. The total number of students involved is a little more than 80, on par with the school's recent productions of "Once Upon This Island" and "Wizard of Oz."

Conarro and Bereman recruited Sheila Wyne to design the set and Art Rotch to work on lighting and special effects. Wyne, a multimedia artist, has worked on a handful of players at Perseverance Theatre. Rotch, a Juneau native and a New York University graduate student, designed Perseverance's recent version of "The Crucible" and will also create the set for Opera to GO!'s upcoming presentation of "Don Giovanni."

Conarro's younger sister, Sarah, a recent graduate of the University of Georgia's arts program, has flown up to design the props. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in drawing and painting.

Laraine Derr has created the costumes, and Heather Sincic is handling the hair and makeup design.

"I'm really grateful and honored to have such a great production team to support the visual aspect of the show," Conarro said. "They have done some amazing work with not a huge budget."

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