“I chose to do ‘Pippin’ with adolescents, because like Pippin’s quest, all these young people are on a quest,” said “Pippin” Director Sally Sefton. “It’s a hero’s journey, he’s trying to find himself, and I wanted to introduce this story to kids.”
Sefton continues that at a recent rehearsal, “Kaimana Neil (Pippin) sang ‘Corner of the Sky.’ I asked, ‘who can relate to these lyrics?’ Everyone raised their hand. ‘Corner of the Sky’ is the main reason I chose this play.”
The “Pippin” performances are the culmination of the Maui Academy of Performing Arts teen musical theater camp, and the result of 200 hours of intensive training in acting, dancing and singing this summer. This year’s camp includes more than two dozen students from six different Maui high schools, and two from the Mainland. MAPA’s youth camps certainly provide theatrical training, but the focus is on supporting each other and preparing to seek goals in the world, both individually and as a community. “This camp is more about what happens offstage than on,” says Sefton. Over the years, Sefton has watched students like Kiegan Otterson grow from teen to young adult. “My first year, we did ‘Honk,’ (a musical version of ‘Ugly Duckling’). Now they’re all growing up and dealing with adult issues. In choosing the plays each year, I try to accommodate the maturity of the kids. Kiegan (King Charles) has grown into his voice, and grown into a more focused performer, a stronger performer. That is a great gift for me. Nothing is more satisfying. I start to count off how many more years I have with a young actor, but you have to release them and let them go.”
Twenty eight students are involved in this year’s summer production. “Pippin” is traditionally a little risque, and perhaps not appropriate for younger children. Asked about the adult aspects of “Pippin” when compared to an average television show and the internet, Sefton replied, “There is some PG sexuality, but that is a tiny dot in the play. The journey is all presented tastefully. There is a ballet piece where Pippin dances with all the women. We’ve toned scenes down. Certainly the Broadway version is much, much edgier and sexier, but Pippin’s quest involves lovers, which points him towards true love and monogamy. Going to war turns him into a pacifist. It’s hard to ignore that teenagers are exposed to sexuality and violence as a topic – TV, movies, the internet, even conversation.”
“Pippin” begins with a Leading Player (Makana Gabin) and an actor’s troupe who establish an unconventional play within a play. Not unlike Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil, “Pippin’s” creators break the fourth wall, speaking directly to the audience, and occasionally present hedonism and dark cynical humor. The troupe proceeds to tell the tale of Pippin, a young prince and the son Charlemagne, or King Charles, the 9th-century King of all Europe and Holy Roman Emperor. The show was originally financed by Berry Gordy’s Motown Records and was conceived by Stephen Schwartz (“Wicked”), as a student musical performed at Carnegie Mellon University. When teamed with Fosse, who had just completed the Academy Award-winning “Cabaret,” “Pippin” evolved into one of Fosse’s signature pieces. At the pinnacle of his talent and style, Fosse infused his vaudeville quality and erotic choreography into the pop tune filled 1970s musical. The Jackson 5 even went on to record “Corner of the Sky.” Schwartz, just 25 at the time, was fresh off of his hit musical “Godspell,” and the two productions ran concurrently. Ben Vereen, as the Leading Player, and Fosse both won Tony Awards for the 1973 Broadway production, and Fosse would go on to win an Emmy that same year for “Liza with a Z.” Fosse is the only person to ever win an Oscar, Emmy and Tony all in the same year.
The troupe proceeds to narrate and perform alongside Pippin’s growing-pains journey, as he seeks the meaning of life and his place in it. The confused young man dabbles in the army, farming, lovers, art, revolution and religion. In “Glory,” a mock battle is presented using swords, spears, shields, straw hats and canes, to both glorify and mock warfare. When war does not appeal to Pippin, he flees to the countryside, exiled to his grandmother’s estate. Grandma tells Pippin not to be so serious, to live a little, and sew a few wild oats. He soon discovers that relationships without love are empty. He then tries out the role of revolutionary, in an attempt to change a world that doesn’t make sense to him. In time, Pippin finds “an average, ordinary, kind of woman,” much to the dismay of the Leading Player. Says Sefton, “Pippin always comes back to a core-value, the simple joys of love, all he needs is to love and be loved.”
I was invited to a rehearsal by MAPA last week, and had a chance to watch several numbers in performance, “Magic to Do,” “Corner of the Sky,” and “Glory.” The later featured a polished version of Fosse’s famous Charles Manson Trio, performed by Gabin, Grace Titley, and Kela Rothsteinin. Choreographer Katie Higuchi has the 28 teens excelling in Fosse movement, and vocally the entire cast has mastered harmonies and choral volume. Completed props, costumes and the set are still to come, but Sefton, Higuchi, and Marti Kluth have this cast “On the Right Track.”
Maui OnStage presents “Legally Blonde: the Musical.” The book is by Heather Hach, lyrics and music by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, direction by Justin House, choreography by Erin Kowalick, and musical direction by Vania Jerome. UCLA Delta Nu sorority president, Elle Woods (Casey Murphy Hughes) has her sights on marrying Warner Huntington III (Dylan Bode). When Warner decides to break up, Elle chases her beau to Harvard Law School. Elle’s snobby classmates disapprove of her immediately, but in time Elle excels at Harvard. Don’t judge a book by its cover, or in this case a blonde. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays, July 11 through August 3 at the Historic Iao Theater. Tickets range from $17 to $28. To purchase seats for any Iao Theater event call 242-6969 or order online at www.mauionstage.com.
Lahaina’s Theatre Theatre Maui returns in July with “Bugsy Malone, Jr.,” directed by Kristi Scott. This long-time summer theater camp for Westside youth will present a musical stage version of the 1976 Scott Baio and Jodie Foster cult classic film. The campy farce is a parody of 1930s gangster movies with an all kids cast. Performances are 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 18 and 19, and 2 p.m. Sunday, July 20 at Lahaina Intermediate.
For more details or to purchase tickets in advance, contact TTM Executive Director Angie Thompson at 661-1168.
Opera Maui announces an inaugural fundraiser at the MACC. Opera Maui’s debut concert features Hawaii’s own Grammy Award-winning opera stars Quinn Kelsey and Audrey Luna, along with the Metropolitan Opera’s Shoshanah Marote and Jim Price, star of last summer’s hit musical, “Les Miserables.” Toronto-based Hawaiian pianist Maika’i Nash accompanies this evening of opera’s greatest hits. Proceeds will benefit Opera Maui and a future opera production company here on the island. Performance will be 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 18 in McCoy Studio Theater at MACC. General admission is $39. To purchase tickets for any MACC event visit the box office, call 242-7469 or order online at www.mauiarts.org.