Tompkins Weekly Staff
Running to Places (R2P), a local youth theater company that brings together middle and high school students, is preparing to bring another unique show to a local stage. A magical collaboration between R2P and Ithaca’s Circus Culture, including jugglers, unicycles, and acrobats, keeps the upcoming production of Pippin in the spirit of a Broadway revival. The show will run from Jan. 12 through 14 at Cornell University’s Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts.
The story revolves around Pippin, a prince, and his journey to find meaning and purpose in his life. Imnri Leshed will play the role of The Leading Player of a mysterious performance troupe, and acts as narrator of the story and director of the journey. This character regularly breaks the shows “fourth wall” to interact with the audience. Pippin decides to prove himself to his distracted father, King Charlemagne (played by Howard Kraskow), by becoming a soldier like his stepbrother Lewis (Aspen Earls). But the life of a soldier, and the horrors of war, end that dream. But Pippin’s journey continues, from his grandmother’s (Julianna Cuevas) estate, all the way to revolution, encouraged by his stepmother, Fastrada (Alyssa Salerno). Things continue to get worse for the boy prince until he meets the lovely Catherine (Cameron Park-Miller), a farm owner, and her son Theo (Andrew Kaiser).
“Pippin is even more poignant now when so much in our culture puts an emphasis on superficiality and appearance,” says Joey Steinhagen, R2P artistic director, in a press release. “The strain from social media, when people think everyone else has the perfect life and vacation and feel their life should have more, means that Pippin resonates in a way it never did before.”
This outrageous story uses circus techniques to tell the tale through intricate movement set to music.
“Fifty teenagers, most of whom have never done circus, are suddenly doing things that leave your jaw on the floor,” says Steinhagen. “Static trapeze, juggling, doing full splits suspended from aerial silks: it’s just what you think of when you think of Cirque du Soleil – but it’s a youth theatre doing these things.”
According to the release, Circus Culture founder and director Amy Cohen says the enthusiasm of the cast members infuses the production with a spirit of fun.
“The show is a testament to Steinhagen’s collaborative spirit,” she adds. “Our ethos and how we think about the world at Circus Culture – to be as inclusive as possible; to honor the unique individual’s gift, whether mental or physical – are so similar to R2P’s, that it’s a dream come true to work with them.”
“Pippin” was award-winning composer Steven Schwartz’s first musical. But it was not his only well-known show as he went on to write other beloved shows including “Godspell” and “Wicked.”
According to the release, R2P resident music director Jeremy Pletter says that “musical theater history can be described as before and after Pippin. Schwartz revolutionized the genre by using modern day rock and pop. The songs, like ‘Corner of the Sky,’ are incredible.”
The show’s dance choreographer is Emily Healy of Circus Culture and fight choreographer Holly Adams. Other members of the design team include Deborah Drew, set design; Elizabeth Woods, costume design; Jordan Fearon, sound design; and Natty Simson, lighting designer, formerly a lighting designer at French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts.
This will be R2P’s first time on the Schwartz Center stage. Steinhagen says Cornell has been tremendously welcoming, with mentoring and training from staff from the Department of Performing & Media Arts.
“Pippin” runs Jan. 12-14, Friday and Saturday at 7 PM, Saturday and Sunday at 2 PM. Tickets are $15 general admission, $12 for students and seniors, available on-line at www.runningtoplaces.org.