In 800 CE, Charlemagne was crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire by Pope Leo III. Known for reuniting Europe under his rule and for facilitating a cultural and intellectual renaissance, the emperor’s legacy lives on. In total, it is estimated that Charlemagne fathered at least 18 children, including a son named Pippin.
In 1972, “Pippin” the musical, directed by Bob Fosse with an original score by Stephan Schwartz, opened on Broadway. Based on the real-life Charlemagne and Pippin of the Roman Empire and set in the Middle Ages, but not historically accurate, the show portrays the story of a young man’s journey to be extraordinary, aided by a mysterious troupe of traveling players, according to Schwartz’s website. The production was revived in 2013, winning four Tony awards including Best Revival of a Musical.
“Pippin” opened last weekend at the Elsie C. Brackett Theatre at OU, directed by Lyn Cramer, a dance professor in the Weitzenhoffer School of Musical Theatre.
Although the production is almost 40 years old, Lily Nicholas, a senior musical theatre major cast as the leading player, said audiences will be blown away.
“It's such a different story,” Nicholas said. “It's something that really makes you think, and it's very exciting the whole time.”
Cramer said that audiences can expect music, dancing and great voices.
“We’re a modern theatre troupe but we're setting it in the Middle Ages,” Cramer said.
“It's certainly the longest show we've done in years, and I've been around for 22 of them. It's incredibly involved because there's an extraordinary amount of dancing in the show.”
Lindsay Lee Alhady, a senior musical theatre major, said students auditioned for the show in the fall. Estrada, Pippin’s stepmother, has been a dream role for Alhady since she was 13.
“When I heard we were doing 'Pippin', I knew exactly what I wanted to get out of it,” Alhady said. “I had been working on the strongest material for months before getting to the audition because I was so set on achieving this goal. It was awesome to just go in and feel like the training and the education I've been earning for the past four years at this university come into fruition.”
Cramer said rehearsals began on Feb. 7 after winter break. Since then, cast members have rehearsed six days a week every week, on average.
The show features several lead roles and an ensemble portraying players in a traveling acting troupe in the Middle Ages. Nicholas said getting a grasp on the history behind “Pippin,” both historical and theatrical, was helpful in preparing for her role as the leading player.
“There's a lot of different parts in this show that are pulled from iconic actors or stories in the past,” Nicholas said. “I really wanted to get a grasp on Charlemagne’s Roman Empire and of the story of him and of his son Pippin, who ended up taking over … I've just had to do a lot of mimicking and exuding energy from past performers.”
Alhady said she has had a blast rehearsing for the production.
“It's just been one of the coolest rehearsal experiences because I spent a lot of time doing ensemble work,” Alhady said. “A lot of my past experience comes from working in coordination with many other performers to achieve something that is bigger than myself, and that energy is a big part of the show. I’m primarily a dancer first, and it was really cool to be able to be treated as and work through the show as an actor. I've had the time of my life.”
Nicholas also said she has had a positive rehearsal experience in working with each cast member.
“This show is very much run by the ensemble,” Nicholas said. “They play a huge role in telling the story … Yes, I'm the leading player, but at the end of the day, we're all just players. It's just been really nice in the rehearsal process to get to work with every single person in the ensemble and see how they all work together and how they transform their characters.”
Cramer said audiences should expect magic, as the production includes several illusions. Touring illusionist Rob Lake served as the magic consultant for the show. Nicholas said that including magical elements has added value.
“When we step out and look at it from the audience it's a really, really awesome added element to have that just makes the performance that much better,” Nicholas said.
Overall, being a part of the production has been a learning experience for all parties involved, including Nicholas. She said she has truly come to understand that there is no creative freedom if one is not flexible.
“If you're not constantly discovering new things that you can do with that role and maybe a new thought that your character is having in that moment it's just going to fall flat,” Nicholas said. “That's something that everybody in the show has been really great at finding every night which has been really fun.”
Alhady said she has also learned to trust herself and her acting while onstage.
“The saying of ‘technique equals freedom’ really comes into play for this process because I've worked so hard focusing on my foundation, and now I’ve reached a place where I'm able to release that and trust myself as the performer that I want to be,” Alhady said.
“Pippin” began last weekend with three shows at OU’s Elsie C. Brackett Theatre. It will run three more shows at 8 p.m. on April 8 and April 9, and at 3 p.m. on April 10.
Tickets are available for purchase on the OU University Theatre’s website and by calling 405-325-4101. A live stream is available for purchase here for all performances. The production contains adult content.
Alhday said she hopes audiences fall in love with “Pippin.”
“All I hope is that people who also have the same love for (Pippin) can come and enjoy themselves, and people who have never seen it can experience it for the first time and feel the impact and the love that I did when I was so young,” Alhday said.