By Joseph Pratt
Cirque d’Art Theatre is in the midst of rehearsing in Huntington, W.Va., for Fifth Avenue Theatre Company’s production of “Pippin.” The classic Stephen Schwartz musical has been a nine time Tony Award recipient and an eight time Drama Desk Award winner.
The director of Fifth Avenue Theatre is theatre veteran Eddie Harbert. His theatrical company is slightly different from most community theatre organizations, because they are designated as a fundraising entity for the city. The decision to produce Pippin was because of its flair and uniqueness.
“I think it will bring a lot of people out,” Harbert said. I knew I wanted an aerial troop involved and it would be something different and attract a larger audience and make us lots of money.”
The Broadway production of “Pippin” usually employs the talent of skilled circus and dance professionals, many of whom are ex members of Cirque du Soleil. Harbert said he was thrilled to discover Cirque d’Art. In fact, since Huntington and Cirque has partnered together for “Pippin,” a new business partnership has blossomed.
“I didn’t know they existed in Portsmouth, actually,” Harbert said. “In bringing them in, I thought it was a great way to collaborate with an out of state troop. It appears that we are actually going to be able to do things more collaboratively in the future. I teach theatre and they teach tricks and circus stuff, so we are hoping we can interact in each other’s groups a lot.”
Prior to casting Cirque for circus stunts, the show lacked the circus feel to “Pippin” and both groups believe that the current show has blended both performances together neatly and uniform.
“I think Cirque has added a lot more excitement and has contributed a lot more with the circus feel of the show. The show is darker and the circus tricks bring out the Pippin in the show,” Harbert explained. “It is a lot of fun. I’m hoping it opens new doors for what theatre can be in Huntington. We still tend to be more traditional in theatre and producing traditional musicals. I think the new partnership can bring out new ideas and more creativity. I think people are tired of the same old thing.”
The two groups have already interacted and networked into the other. Cirque has been teaching one of the actors from Huntington circus stunts and she will be performing a scene on the trapeze. The theatrical company has also added cirque to more acting scenes and have even included some in the finale number, where they will be singing.
Hadyn Schmidt, senior at Notre Dame and 14-year-member of Cirque d’Art, says that circus is very important to her and she will be involved in it for a long time. She plans on performing in upcoming years, but hopes to continue as an instructor when she retires from the silk and hoops. Schmidt says that she is excited to be doing something new, since Cirque’s shows are drastically different from a fully staged musical adaptation.
“’Pippin’ is very different from what I’m used to, but I think it is new and I’m always up for something new,” Schmidt said. “It’s been really fun though and I’ve got to meet a lot of the performers that are with the ‘Pippin’ production. They like to hear about what we do and for us to show them stunts and we like to have them show us stuff, too.”
“Pippin” will be performed in the Jean Carlo Auditorium in Huntington City Hall at 500 5th Avenue. The group represents the City of Huntington Foundation. “Pippin” runs April 4, 5, 11 and 12 at 8 p.m., and April 6 and 13 at 2:30 p.m. General admission is $15. More information and tickets can be purchased at www.cityofhuntingtonfoundation.com or by calling 304-696-5522.
“It is a really big deal for us, to be involved in something that is such a traditional musical production. I mean, it is something that is currently even on Broadway. It is just great. Everyone in the cast has given the circus kids applause after seeing what they’ve done,”Cirque d’Art co-Director Pegi Wilkes said. “The level of acceptance, caring and love that the cast has shown the circus kids is just phenomenal. The number one question we always get is “You’re doing this in Portsmouth?” People are shocked to see that Portsmouth has a very vibrant art life growing.”
Joseph Pratt can be contacted at Portsmouth Daily Times 740-353-3101, Ext 287, or by Twitter @JosephPratt03.