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UCO's 'Pippin' a contemporary take on the classic Broadway musical



7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
University of Central Oklahoma Music Theatre
Mitchell Hall Theater
100 N. University Dr., Edmond
$14 Adults, $10 Seniors

With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz ("Wicked"), "Pippin" follows a wily troupe of traveling players as they relate the coming-of-age story of Prince Pippin, son of King Charlemagne.

"While we might think, 'Who could have a better life than a prince?' Pippin doesn't see it that way. He is, like most of us, struggling to figure out what to do with his life," said director and choreographer Steven Smeltzer.

That search leads him through the glories of the battlefield, temptations of the flesh, and the intrigues of political power before he finds his true calling.

Smeltzer was asked to helm the ambitious University of Central Oklahoma production because of his extensive experience with "Pippin," having acted in, choreographed, and directed previous productions.

"My first encounter with 'Pippin' was when I was in high school in Florida in the late '70s and the national tour came through," he said. "It was so unique and relevant to the times, in some ways like the musical 'Hair,' with its references to war, sex, drugs and, of course, the contemporary pop-rock sound."

He said that "Pippin" is probably the edgiest of Schwartz's musicals, due in large part to the original director and choreographer, Bob Fosse.

"Fosse had already had huge success with 'Cabaret' and 'Sweet Charity,' and wanted to stay up with the times. He wanted to take it in a darker direction," Smeltzer said. "He also wanted to poke fun at traditional musicals and styles of the past."

Smeltzer said he wanted to maintain that edgy, exciting quality of the original Broadway production, but still wanted the audience to empathize with Pippin's struggle.

"Pippin" features a dizzying display of stage entertainment, including circus acts, ballet and jazz dances, musical- comedy numbers, rock-concert performances, magic-show illusions and vaudeville routines. To find such a diverse group of performers, campus-wide auditions were held at UCO.

"We ended up with an extraordinarily talented cast of many shapes, sizes and ethnicities from many different departments," Smeltzer said.

Among the diverse acts, "Pippin" features aerial dancing, a first on the Mitchell Hall stage.
"Several of the dancers and I went to Perpetual Motion/Modern Dance Oklahoma and took classes with Kim Kieffer-Williams, who was amazing," Smeltzer said. "It was like working with Cirque du Soleil."

In addition to working with an arranger to contemporize the sound of the 1970s pop score, UCO's "Pippin" will be the second production anywhere to utilize a new ending and the song "Back Home Again," which was recently written by Stephen Schwartz.

"I talked to Stephen Schwartz, and he feels that as he has matured over the years, so have his talents. He was never really happy with the ending of the show in the Broadway version," Smeltzer said. "Since 'Pippin' is a coming-of-age story, a lot of it is affected by where you are in your life and the social and political climate of the times. It is one of those musicals I never get tired of, and I see it differently each time I do it." "?Eric Webb


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