Seasoned actors head to Durham for ‘Pippin’

By Lincoln Pennington
Times-News correspondent

   DURHAM — A circus tent gets pitched at the Durham Performing Arts Center next week as “Pippin” takes the stage. The current national tour comes out of the recent Broadway revival. The production won four Tony Awards in 2013, including Best Revival of a Musical and Best Direction of a Musical.
The show originally was staged on Broadway in 1972 when the role of “Leading Player” was made famous by Ben Vereen. The show has music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, known by many for “Wicked,” and a book by Roger O. Hirson. The show follows a circus troupe telling the story of a young prince Pippin in his search for meaning.
Sasha Allen, who is performing the role of Leading Player, headlines the show, but she is perhaps better known for her Top Five appearance in NBC’s fourth season of “The Voice.” However, this is not her first time performing in a musical. She made her Broadway debut in “Hair,” and she became interested in theater in junior high. Her previous experience could not have prepared her for this role though.
   “I couldn’t do a pull-up before the show,” Allen said. “It was terrible, but now I am in the best shape of my life.”
This revival production’s interpretation and vision for the show are unique. Director Diane Paulus turned the ensemble into a traveling circus troupe and added circus choreography and acrobatic stunts throughout the show. The acrobatic stunts required for this production push the cast to their limits physically, but it’s the acrobats that make the show beautiful, Allen said.
Ben Vereen’s legendary performance as Leading Player is a huge inspiration, Allen said, but she also tries to make the role her own by adding a sexiness and gentle fierceness to her interpretation. The gender switch from the original production allows her to make her Leading Player distinct, and she wants the performance to be empowering for women, Allen said.
Durham audiences also will get a special treat. Kyle Dean Massey will be filling in for the role of Pippin for a brief engagement. Massey is well known on Broadway for his incredible performances in shows like “Wicked” and “Next to Normal,” and he already has experience as Pippin because he played the role in the Broadway revival. Audiences may also recognize him from his role as Kevin Bicks in ABC’s “Nashville.”
The current revival tour is an exciting mixture of the classic musical with highly visual sets and breathtaking acrobatics. Audiences will, of course, hear their favorite songs, such as “Corner of the Sky,” but Paulus’ reinterpretation of the show as a circus troupe brings a fresh perspective to the classic.
“The show is about purpose and finding what makes you fulfilled,” Allen said. “There is something in it for everyone. Everyone will find enjoyment in the show.”

If you go

WHAT: National touring production of “Pippin”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. May 12-14, 8 p.m. May 15, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. May 16 and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. May 17
WHERE: Durham Performing Arts Center, The American Tobacco District, 123 Vivian St., Durham
TICKETS: Tickets start at $30 and can be purchased through all Ticketmaster outlets,, or by calling (800) 745-3000.

Lincoln Pennington is a rising senior at UNC-Chapel Hill and a Teens & Twenties writer.


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