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Mar 17, 2015

‘Pippin’ leaps, flips and tumbles into the Peace Center

March 17, 2015

Paul Hyde, [email protected] 3:04 p.m. EDT March 10, 2015

When the circus-inspired revival of “Pippin” leaps, flips and tumbles into Greenville, there’ll be two Pippins on the Peace Center stage.

In this national tour, Sam Lips takes on the role of the young prince who’s searching for meaning and significance in his life.

But in a special treat for theater-goers, the veteran actor who originated the role of Pippin in 1972 on Broadway, John Rubinstein, will be playing Pippin’s father, Charlemagne.

“It’s so much fun to be back in the show,” Rubinstein said by phone during a “Pippin” tour stop in Omaha, Nebraska. “I look forward to it every single night.”

“Pippin,” which won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Musical Revival, opens Tuesday for eight performances at the Peace Center through March 22.

“Pippin” is an early musical by Stephen Schwartz, the Broadway hitmeister whose “Wicked” recently enjoyed a hugely popular three-week run at the Peace Center.

The rock-and-pop-inflected “Pippin” spawned such Broadway classics as “Magic to Do,” “Corner of the Sky” and “Morning Glow.”

This 2013 revival, staged by Diane Paulus, incorporates Cirque Du Soleil-style acrobatics as it follows Pippin through an array of adventures as he tried to find fulfillment and happiness in the Middle Ages.

“Pippin is a young man trying to discover where he fits in, where he belongs,” said Lips, the tour’s Pippin.

“He’s a smart guy, really adventurous and he really goes for what he wants and doesn’t look back.”

Lips and Rubinstein both saw the Broadway revival shortly after it opened and both would later join the Broadway cast.

“I was so moved by it,” Lips said. “It was one of those shows that I wanted to see over and over again. So when I got the opportunity to audition for the role, I gave it everything I had.”

Lips, originally from Denver and now based in New York City, was the understudy for the role of Pippin on Broadway for six months before joining the national tour in January.

Rubinstein played Charlemagne with the revival cast on Broadway for a few months last year and then joined the national tour as Charlemagne this past September.

High-flying show

In keeping with its European-style circus theme, Lips has to perform a back flip in the air, and sing a tender ballad, “With You,” on a flying ring.

“It did take me a while to get used to the acrobatics,” Lips said. “I think I just had to learn to let go of my mind and the fear of falling.”

Rubinstein, for his part, throws knives and does some magic tricks.

“I don’t have to do any acrobatics, I’m happy to say,” Rubinstein said, with a laugh.

Pippin’s story is presented by an acting troupe whose members speak directly to the audience. The group is led by the Leading Player, portrayed in this production by Sasha Allen, who rose to fame as a finalist in the 2013 TV season of “The Voice.”

The show’s acrobatic razzle-dazzle should appeal to a new generation of theater-goers, Lips said.

“Diane Paulus, the director, has such a good eye for something new, something groundbreaking,” Lips said. “She’s always on the front end of innovation in the theater. A show like ‘Pippin’ is something people don’t get to see very often. It’s so unique and it’s very special to bring it to people.”

“Pippin” also will bring back some fond memories for Baby Boomers, Rubinstein said.

“I get a lot of people who say, ‘I saw you then and I’m so happy to see you now,’” Rubinstein said.

The original Broadway cast album, on which Rubinstein sings the role of Pippin, proved particularly popular with young people in the early 1970s who longed for shows with the sort of music they might hear on the radio.

“For a lot of people it was their first Broadway show,” Rubinstein said. “It broke new ground, moving away from Rodgers and Hammerstein. It’s an everyman story, so people really relate to it. Many people also has performed ‘Pippin’ in high school or college, so it’s a show people feel close to and sentimental about.”

The original Broadway cast featured Irene Ryan, best known as Granny from “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

“She was a little ball of energy,” Rubinstein recalled. “She was a wonderful, graceful, good-humored woman, nothing like Granny in ‘The Beverly Hillbillies.’ She was an elegant, sweet woman. I loved working with her.”

Rubinstein, based in Los Angeles, has enjoyed a long and varied career in show business. Not only has he starred in Broadway and Off-Broadway shows but he appeared in 300 episodes of two TV series, “Family” and “Crazy Like a Fox.” He’s been in 30 films and directed for stage and TV.

He’s also been a composer and conductor. When he’s not on tour, he teaches at the University of Southern California’s School of Dramatic Arts.

In addition, Rubinstein has narrated more than 100 audiobooks. In fact, he finished two more audiobooks while touring in “Pippin.”

“I love it all,” said Rubinstein, speaking of his diverse career. “I never get bored. I feel very fortunate that I get to work in this field. Anytime someone gives me a job, that’s my favorite thing. It sounds like a cliche but I really mean it.”

The 1972 “Pippin” garnered five Tony Awards while the 2013 revival earned four Tony Awards. Ben Vereen and Patina Miller won Tony Awards for their portrayals of the Leading Player in the original Broadway production and the revival, respectively, making them the first two actors of different genders to win a Tony for the same role. Miller is a graduate of the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities.