The audience is in for a wild ride when Centreville High presents the musical "Pippin," this Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 1-3, at 7:30 p.m. in the school theater; tickets are $8.
"This show is so cool," said senior Tini Clayton, who portrays one of the "players" in a comedia dell' arte troupe. "It's like Cirque de Soleil meets 'Moulin Rouge' meets the devil."
It's also a Bob Fosse musical, so that guarantees knockout songs and choreography. "There are 15 songs, the music is modern and upbeat and we're having a live, five-piece band play," said stage manager Rick Mathews. And the show has 60 cast and crew members.
In the story, Pippin's the 18-year-old son of King Charlemagne of the Holy Roman Empire, and the action takes place in his mind, in a daydream, during the Crusades. He always tries to best his older stepbrother Lewis, while searching for meaning in his life.
"The leading player represents the temptation of the devil and, seeing Pippin's weakness for satisfaction, she tells him the only thing you can control in life is how you die," said senior Cristine Backhus, 18. "The play shows his journey through life, trying to find self-fulfillment."
Clayton, 17, says it's like a big party, and "we get to be completely crazy. It's also really anachronistic — for example, some characters read newspapers or talk into microphones. And the players each represent general archetypes, such a doctor, lovers, etc. I'm the mother, but kind of devious. We're almost like demons, trying to seduce Pippin and the audience to come along with us. It's not just about the people on stage, but also about the audience members and their search for meaning, too."
Backhus is a player and "the head," who talks to Pippin during a battle scene and, oddly enough, provides that scene's comic relief. She's a female, British head, and she says it's one of her favorite roles.
"It's so funny and is so out there and extreme — something you don't see every day," she said. "It's imaginative and such a contrast to the rest of the characters. It's a memorable scene and, since it's my senior year, it's a great way to leave a mark on Centreville Drama."
"It's an amazing play," continued Backhus. "You get drawn into the atmosphere and environment because of all the songs, dancing and special effects. It makes you want to get up on stage with them. And it comes close to home for people our age — how it seems as if there's always something wrong in your life."
Ashley Crawford, 18, is a player and a temptress. Instead of having specific names, all seven players have particular personalities and try to lead Pippin astray. She likes her role because, since the players are always there, she gets lots of stage time. She's the clown servant, and she and student Anna Fontaine play twins.
"I'm the goofball of the group; I'm always over-exaggerating," said Crawford. "But it's fine because there's no right or wrong way to do this part. I love the play — it's so different. The makeup and costumes are almost like an evil circus or Mardi Gras. We have Harlequin makeup — white and black, with different designs on our faces."
Junior Dana Moreno, 16, plays Pippin's love interest, Catherine. "The leading player wants Pippin to follow the path she's set for him, but I want him to stay and fall in love with me," she explained. "She's a plain person, an average girl and a widow with a son and wholesome values. I love it — this is the part I wanted. I'm just elated I have the privilege of playing her."
She said her character has lots of subtext, and she noted the play's underlying theme of the sun — representing lifelines and people's attitudes and relationships with each other. Junior Liz Killiam, 17, who plays Pippin's stepmother, Queen Fastrada, even sings a song called, "Spread a Little Sunshine."
Actually, said Killiam, her character has two natures — cunning and innocent — and she likes playing her. "I'm mischievous and manipulate my husband, the king, into doing what I want," she said. "I like my royal allowance and I make him bend to my requests." Fastrada also favors her own son, Lewis, and hates her stepson Pippin. She wants Lewis to follow King Charlemagne to the throne.
In the title role is senior Theo Thompson. Throughout the play, Pippin goes through various scenarios, such as war and love interests. "He's always growing and changing and getting involved with new experiences," said Thompson, 18. "He starts to figure out that everyone in his life isn't who they really are."
He loves the part because "I can actually develop, change and progress as a person. I start to realize I'm an actual human being, and I understand what's good and bad and [can] make my own choices. I'm kind of like the only sane person in the play. I begin to see that the players onstage are going on in my head and things aren't as they appear. I realize that life, too, has secrets and illusions."
Senior Michael Peterson plays Lewis. "He's arrogant, self-absorbed and strong, but a big mama's boy," said Peterson. "He thinks he's the best in the world and should be king. He's jealous of Pippin and hates him because he's their father's favorite and the one their father wants to become king."
Peterson said it's "kind of fun to play a jerk" because of his different mood swings. And he calls the play modern and expressive, with catchy music: "We ask the audience to come with us on our journey, and we think they will."
Portraying King Charlemagne is Brian Marchetti, 15. As king of the Roman Empire, he's powerful, but soft inside. "I'm always going to war — I want to conquer everything," said Marchetti. "But my wife Fastrada makes me melt. I'm a loving father, but don't give Pippin enough attention."
He enjoys playing character roles and "hamming it up a lot. I have to show all different levels of emotions." He said it's a high-energy show — both serious and humorous — with a wide variety of music, including fast songs and ballads. Added Marchetti: "It's not your normal musical."
As a player, Lauren Robinson, 16, is "the doctor." The trouble is, her character is clumsy and gets sent to solve problems about which she's clueless. She's also an oddball who doesn't have a personal relationship with the other members of the troupe of players.
"It's a lot of fun because you just develop into your own character, and you're into this whole, new zone within [it]," said Robinson. "And it's great being all over the place and conniving along with the other players. The play is pure madness and pure magic — everyone should come see it."
Tech crew member Samantha Ondrusek helped build the set and props. "It's hard work, but worth it, because the techs have so much respect for the field," she said. "We take pride in it — it's gonna be a spectacular play. We're not running on energy, we're running on complete enthusiasm for the play."
Rachel Dolan, 18, the troupe's "leading player," represents the devil, toying with people to lead them down the wrong path. She says it's tough singing, dancing and speaking right afterward, but she loves being on stage doing her favorite things.
Senior Chris Nolan is a "playa" who added spice to his role by taking his name from a local group's rap/rock song. He's the grumpy, father character in the troupe. "After I saw the Broadway version of 'Pippin' on TV, I realized that all the characters were voices in Pippin's head, and I always thought that would be a cool thing to play," he said. "The audience will come out looking at life a different way."