The music is still the same, but musical theater junkies familiar with “Pippin” might be a little surprised at the current version. The production that made its Broadway debut in the early ‘70s has definitely gotten a makeover in the hands of director Diane Paulus, who resurrected “Hair” in New York and on the road. “Pippin” bows at the Fox Theatre next week, courtesy of Broadway Across America, with out performer Alan Kelly part of its ensemble.
The pop musical tells the story of Pippin, a young prince who is looking for meaning in his life. He has the choice of whether he can live a simple but relatively happy life—or risk it all for a moment of glory. The characters of Pippin and his father are based on real-life people from the Middle Ages. Known for its Bob Fosse dancing and production numbers as well as Stephen Schwartz’s music, the reimagined “Pippin” won a Tony Award for Best Revival in 2013. The new concept—which Kelly says adds “an element of danger”—finds the players part of a circus troupe.
Kelly trained at the National Performing Arts School and the College of Dance in Dublin, Ireland, and later moved to London and got more training at Laine Theatre Arts and Trinity College London. The actor was a prolific performer already in shows such as Elton John’s “Aida” and the Freddie Mercury musical “We Will Rock You” when he won a green card lottery and got to move to the United States in January of 2013.
He is based in New York and “Pippin” is his first big show. The audition process for “Pippin” took a while, though. In all, he had to audition five times before he got the part. Besides being part of the ensemble, he is the understudy for the character of Charles. As fate would have it, the first time he went on was the day of a matinee, so he wound up going on then as well as the evening performance. That first time, he recalls, was a more technical performance, trying to get it all right. The second time, however, he was more relaxed.
“Pippin” is a demanding show, requiring lots of physicality from its ensemble. For this production, Kelly has learned a contortionist trick, requiring him to lift another man during the musical. “That one scene probably took the longest in tech to finesse,” he says. Most of the others performers have had to add something to their repertoire as well. “It all adds to the magical element,” he says.
The touring version features actress Adrienne Barbeau, who joined the cast earlier this year as Berthe. She is 70 years old but has fit in well with the cast, he says. “She is energetic, fun and charming,” he says. “What she does is really impressive. It’s really great casting.”
The show also has the original Pippin—John Rubinstein—in its cast, starring as Charles.
Being gay has never been an issue for Kelly. He has played gay and non-gay roles throughout his career. There is nothing overtly gay about this production, but he thinks LGBT audiences can appreciate the show just as much as anyone. “It’s a classic that people know and love,” he says. He does say that the company has a number of LGBT performers in its large ensemble and is altogether a very diverse group.
Kelly, who will turn 30 during the Atlanta gig, has never been to the city but is looking forward to meeting up with some friends here and seeing more of the city. “I am very touristy,” he says.
He is contracted with the show through early 2016. After that he will determine his next move, whether it will be staying with the tour or looking for his next gig.
He has done a few small films here and there, but his dream role is Amos Hart, the sad-sack husband who sings “Mister Cellophane” in “Chicago.”