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Mar 17, 2015

'Pippin' opens at Peace Center in Greenville this week

March 17, 2015

LEENA DBOUK [email protected] Sunday, March 15, 2015 at 3:15 a.m.

To be successful, musicals — particularly the ones that focus on struggle and human nature — must be able to pull at the audience's heartstrings.

For example, "Wicked," which recently played at the Peace Center for the Performing Arts in Greenville, concentrated on themes of learning to love one's true self and maintaining one's values (justice, in this case) no matter the odds.

The musical "Pippin," on the other hand, focuses on learning to accept the ordinary as extraordinary.

"If you think about it, the ordinary is extraordinary. The sun rising every morning is extraordinary," said Priscilla Lopez, who plays the title character's grandmother Berthe in the touring production that makes a stop Tuesday through Sunday at the Peace Center.

The Tony Award-winning musical revival follows the story of a young man, Pippin, who wants to find his place in the world.

"Pippin vows to live an extraordinary life. He does not want to live one day as an ordinary man," Lopez said.

So, the "fresh prince" goes out to find his extraordinary life. He first joins his father Charlemagne at the battlefront.

"Pippin doesn't find meaning on the battlefield," Lopez said. "He leaves the war and starts involving himself in different things, like politics, religion and sex, but does not find meaning in any of them."

Eventually, Pippin comes across a widow and her son, and he begins helping them around their little farm.

"A year goes by and Pippin realizes he's living a very mundane life, so he leaves the farm and joins a circus troupe," Lopez said. "However, he realizes that he was only truly happy when he was with the widow and her son.

"Pippin learns that what makes life extraordinary are the people in your life, the people you love."

Pippin later returns to the widow, happy to live an ordinary life.

Lopez's character, Berthe, is an encouraging presence. In fact, she tells Pippin to look for happiness.

"Pippin comes to see me when he finds himself discouraged," Lopez explained. "That's when I sing 'Just No Time at All,' which is about living for today, enjoying the sunshine because time goes by quickly.

"That's why I find Berthe very relatable. It's a cliché notion but a true one. Nothing is forever, and that's scary. But life doesn't guarantee you a certain amount of allotted time. Sometimes, people leave earlier than we expect. That's why you have to make the choice to be happy."

Lopez, a Tony Award-winner herself, has played in several off-Broadway and Broadway productions, including one of the earliest performances of "Pippin" (1973), when she played King Charlemagne's trophy wife and Pippin's stepmother, Fastrada.

"Playing two opposing roles is fantastic. It's fun," Lopez said. "You're playing two roles at different times in your life and experiencing and relating to different things. I played Fastrada over 40 years ago; now, I've lived a whole life."

There have been significant changes made between the original version of "Pippin" and the revival.

"Most people have probably seen the original 'Pippin,'" Lopez explained. "However, the one we're performing is the Broadway revival. The story and songs are the same; however, this time it's played in the world of the circus, which means there are a lot of acrobatic stunts and the costumes are beautiful and colorful."

Almost like a world of jesters, the Broadway revival of "Pippin" has received critical acclaim and won several Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical. Notably, Spartanburg native Hugh Hayes won a Tony as one of the producers of the Broadway show.

"People love the show. I think they find it very relatable," Lopez said. "The story is so good. But so is the choreography, from the brilliant mind of Bob Fosse. And the music, you can't go wrong with Stephen Schwartz. … It's truly a great night at the theater."