Rick Kerby wasn’t sure how many would show up two months ago when the Manatee Players auditioned for his season opener of the 1972 hit musical “Pippin”.
The theater company had produced a few shows with small actors wearing face shields in front of a limited capacity and socially distant audience during the height of the pandemic.
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As of early June, the wave of new cases caused by the delta variant had yet to hit, so Kerby was hoping for a good turnout among community theater actors who had been hungry for opportunities last year.
“We had a great turnout and I love my cast. They are basically a dream team, ”said Kerby. “The number of people who came out was pretty normal for us, so it’s a good sign that people want to come back on stage.”
But there was a difference. The theater, like so many others in the region and across the country, has offered performers the option of submitting videotapes, “something that represents them well,” he said. . “It doesn’t have to be something from the show and we’re not asking them to read anything in particular. We would call them back for that.
Video auditions can become a permanent part of the process, Kerby said, but he still needs to see the artists in person.
“I can see it’s here to stay and it’s so much more convenient, especially for busy people volunteering their time,” he said. “But I’d rather see the person face to face. When I get a video the first thing I think of is that they recorded the song 20 times before they sent me the only good version they had. There is nothing quite like an in-person hearing.
Whichever way they auditioned, Kerby said he was thrilled to be back in a rehearsal room to work on a full-scale musical, especially one like “Pippin,” which takes up a spot. particular in his memory.
“The first musical theater piece I ever saw was a college production of ‘Pippin’. For me it was like going from black and white to color. I didn’t know these things existed, ”he said.
The musical, with a score by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Roger O. Hirson, was one of the first he directed after joining the Manatee Players in 2003. Charlie Barnett, who appeared on television and in the movies, played the lead player, with future Juilliard School classmate and Broadway artist Andrew Foster in the title role, in 2005.
Learn more about ‘Pippin’, Charlemagne’s son
Pippin is the son of Charlemagne who is traveling to find himself or discover his “corner of the sky”, according to one of the enduring songs of the series.
While the show, songs, and story are familiar to many onlookers as their 50th birthday approaches next year, Kerby does not recreate past accomplishments. This new production is inspired by the circus-themed staging created by director Diane Paulus for a Broadway revival in 2013 that lasted nearly two years.
“The show is in a marquee and the circus is still there, and I’m kind of sprinkled with circus elements where it fits my purpose,” he said. The theater works with Circus Minius, a Bradenton-based company that collaborated on the theater’s 2018 production of “Barnum.” Kerby has trained his actors, while Circus Minius performers will appear in lyre, canvas, silk, juggling, unicycle and acrobatics acts.
However it is staged, Kerby said the story “always fits the times. Your search for your purpose, your best self and your place.
He’s working with a cast featuring some of the best known and most active community theater artists, led by Alex Zickafoose, choir director at Booker High School’s Visual and Performing Arts Center, in the title role. He also played the role of Quasimodo in Kerby’s production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and Crutchie in “Newsies”. Tay Marquise, a Booker graduate who has appeared in the theater’s “West Side Story” and “Newsies,” returns as the lead player, a sort of magical narrator who guides Pippin on his journey. (The role won a Tony Award for Ben Vereen.)
Cory Woomert plays Charlemagne, with Christina Capehart as wife, Fastrada. Ellen Kleinschmidt plays Pippin’s wise and energetic grandmother and Sarah Cassidy plays Catherine, a young mother whom Pippin meets along the way.
Book by Roger O. Hirson, music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Directed and choreographed by Rick Kerby. August 12-22, Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W., Bradenton. 941-749-1111; manateeperformingartscenter.com