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FTT’s “Pippin” does remarkably well

“Pippin” revolutionized Broadway at the time of its debut in 1972. With a daring structure and an innovation of metalanguage, the musical won five Tony Awards for telling the tale of Prince Pippin, the heir to the throne of King Charlemagne, which follows a troubled existential journey in search of the meaning of life. Told by a theatrical troupe, the saga is led by a Leading Player and the music of Stephen Schwartz, author of “Godspell” (1971), “Wicked” (2003) and winner of Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe awards. 

A narrative ensemble invites the audience to immerse themselves in the magic of theater and accompany the vicissitudes of Pippin’s turbulent life. In a journey of self discovery, he faces battles, experiences power, simplicity and love.

It is a musical with a lot more substance and layers than one might originally assume. “Pippin” is a cynical comedy that features an absolutely modern protagonist, full of doubts and questions and with an existential void that can never be fulfilled. So much so, it has been dubbed the “Hamlet” of musicals. He rejects old cliches and breaks with some traditions of the genre. As if that were not enough, it takes up the idea of ​​the “theater of life within the theater of stage” and invites a theatrical group and the figure of the Leading Player to tell the story.

When I first saw this musical in high school, I must admit I did not love it as equally, as I had grown rapidly passionate about other musicals I encountered. The meta aspect of “Pippin” was its most creative and interesting development, and the ending related a sincere and profound moral. However, if I would have only reviewed my experience of the musical then, I would rate “Pippin” a moderate  3 out of 5 shamrocks. There were moments when I felt the story was dragging, and the writers inserted reflective songs without much narrative development to compensate. The jokes grew overused and crude, distracting from the uneventful plot.

I am glad, however, that Notre Dame students managed to make my second experience of the show considerably more enjoyable. Directed by senior Nick Buranicz, the department of Film, Television and Theatre developed a youthful and animating production. Although I had originally taken a more moderate liking of the play, Notre Dame’s “Pippin” earned 5 out of 5 shamrocks.

The actors were comical and idiosyncratic without being overbearing — except, of course, for the one character who is meant to be domineering, the brilliant and hilarious Charlemagne (Timothy Merkle). Pippin himself (Carlos Macias) perfectly captured the bright-eyed naivety of the character. His sweet and mellow rendition of “Corner of the Sky” was moving and ideal. Both the Leading Player (Evelyn Berry) and Fastrada (Olivia Seymour) superbly capture their characters’ scheming wiliness and oustanding charm. Grandma Berthe (Gavriella Aviva Lund) was especially vibrant as she led the audience through the chorus of “No Time at All,” and Catherine (Kate Turner) taught the audience the value of simple pleasures with her agreeable disposition. That is to say nothing of the fantastic vocals and each actor’s ingenious doubling as a member of the ensemble.

The scenes balanced the humor and philosophical weight of the show. Despite its great comedic moments, this version of “Pippin” seemed less rough and more principled. The cast of “Pippin” gave the ending its proper meaning, which is, of course, memorable for its rejection of the desire for extraordinary pyrotechnics in life and the exaltation of the menial and familiar. 

Choreography was marvelously executed, with much color and vivacity. Further, the set was also innovative, using gymnastics mats to construct each fluid scene. The rapidness and large-scale transitions with these mats were nothing short of impressive. Finally, the costumes were well-suited, given the unique and lively nature of the show.

Contact Marcelle at mcouto@nd.edu

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Pippin set to show at DPAC

A student-led performance of the musical comedy “Pippin” will show at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center this weekend. Students have worked this semester to create a show that will not only make audiences laugh, but also reflect on the broader theme of one’s purpose in life. 

Nick Buranicz is a senior chemistry and FTT double major and both the director and executive producer of “Pippin”. He chose to put this show on as his senior Capstone project for the musical theater minor partly because of the liveliness of the content, he said. “It’s really fun, really colorful, and really movement and dance-based.” 

His role is both administrative and creative. He has worked on the show since early August, when he pitched it to the FTT department, and throughout the semester, staging the performance, working with the choreographer, the music directors, and other creative leaders. “We kind of built it up over time, like any standard theater process,” he said. 

Though he isn’t performing in this show, Buranicz has a strong background in acting, having started when he was a freshman in high school. Once arriving at Notre Dame, he took a directing class with Professor and Director of Musical Theater, Matt Hawkins, which he said helped inform him as a director and an actor. 

Pippin’s story is not only told by the script itself, but by the “directing choices, acting, crew, and music,” Emily Kane said. She is a senior majoring in ACMS (Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics) and honors music performance with a minor in education, schooling, and society. She is the music director in charge of the orchestra pit for “Pippin.” She has worked with the musicians who will play live for each performance, and studied the score as one of their conductors. 

This performance required a rigorous rehearsal schedule. Rehearsal started in the second week of the semester, and took place five days a week for four hours each day. “I’m looking forward to having a show that’s really solid, that people can come and enjoy and say, ‘Wow, that was really well done,’” Buranicz said.

Carlos Macias, a sophomore neuroscience and behavior major, mentioned that he has spent many hours at rehearsal. He is playing the lead role of “Pippin.” 

Macias started doing musical theater at the end of his junior year of high school, and this show will be his first time as a cast member in a musical on Notre Dame’s campus. Nerves and excitement are both present for him, but he is especially looking forward to showing people a side of him that he is passionate about. “It’s kind of awesome to reveal the rest of what makes you yourself,” he said.

Timothy Merkle is a senior FTT major with a concentration in theater and has an ACMS supplemental major and a minor in musical theater. He is performing the roles of King Charles and “player” as well as working as the assistant director. His role as king is a source of fun energy in the show, he said. “I think you often have this idea of a king as a very proper figure who does not joke around, and King Charles is the opposite of that.” 

Merkle and Buranicz have worked to make a professional environment, while keeping it fun, encouraging the cast members to make their own choices in playing their roles, Merkle said. As for the audience, Merkle hopes that the performance can serve as an entertaining and energetic “mental escape from school,” he said.  

Another reason Buranicz chose “Pippin” was because of its message. As a devout Catholic, Buranicz likes to incorporate themes within the Catholic realm into the shows he directs, he said, and “Pippin” has a universal message of self-sacrifice and asks the question of “where we can find true fulfillment and happiness in the world.”  

Throughout the rehearsal process, the cast has gotten close with each other. Kate Turner is a sophomore FTT and vocal performance double major with a musical theater minor, who has been doing musical theater since she was four years old. Turner will be playing the role of Catherine in the show. She spoke about the energy and closeness of the group that has made this performance special. “Everyone has been so enthusiastic and everyone has brought a different thing to the table,” she said. 

“Pippin” is showing Oct. 7-9, 2022, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., at the Philbin Studio Theatre in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.

Students rehearse for their upcoming performance of Pippin. Performances are scheduled for October 7 and 8 at 7 p.m. and Sunday October 9 at 2 p.m.