U-High students tackle challenging, magical musical

More students choreographing U-High’s ‘Pippin’

Mira Costello, Reporter

After working tirelessly on flashy choreography, practicing complex roles, and experimenting with their production’s offbeat format, the U-High theater cast and crew are excited to perform the Tony-award-winning musical “Pippin.”

Sophie Hinerfeld
MAGIC IN THE MAKING. Senior Nicole Horio, who plays the Leading Player, and junior Jacob Beiser, who plays Pippin, rehearse a scene from spring production of “Pippin.”

Director Liucija Ambrosini chose the musical because she sees it as a quintessential Broadway show. From the composer of the hit musical “Wicked,” the production grew in popularity after the 2013 Broadway revival of its adventurous style.

“It’s loved,” Ms. Ambrosini  said. “Every time I say what we’re doing, people light up.”

Senior Nicole Horio, who will portray the Leading Player, agrees. She has participated in musicals at U-High since her freshman year, which helps her appreciate this production’s uniqueness.

Her character “has a dark side,” which is different from the roles she is used to. Though this has been a challenge, Nicole admitted, she and the rest of the cast have enjoyed exploring the show’s rich themes. She also recognizes the musical’s unconventional structure.

“It’s a story within a story,” she said, noting that this causes the characters to interact differently than in a typical show, because they are aware of the story’s various levels. “It’s a magic show on the surface level, so there’s a lot of different tricks and elements we’ve been rehearsing.”

Nicole observed that “Pippin” also differs from past shows, such as 2017’s “The Drowsy Chaperone,” in the amount of choreography involved.

“Last year, we had two big numbers, but this year, almost every song has a big dance break,” she said.

For the first time, the team hired a professional choreographer for more support. However, U-High students are still very involved in the choreographic process.

Sofia Damer-Salas, a sophomore on the choreography team along with John Freeman and Anna Schloerb, knows what has gone into the show. She helped choreograph last year’s “The Drowsy Chaperone,” but indicated “Pippin” is different.

Rather than typical musical theater numbers, the dances in “Pippin” are more jazz-like with lots of elements from Broadway choreographer Robert Fosse’s distinct, nuanced style, Sofia said. While Sofia said the dance numbers reflect the “confidence and power jazz is all about,” they’ve proved demanding for cast and choreographers alike.

Once you strip away the cloud of judgment that a lot of people have, you can really enjoy watching musicals and all kinds of performing arts.”

— Sofia Damer-Salas

“It definitely helps us bond, because we all are not the best dancers,” Nicole said. “But it’s a lot of fun — trying something new, getting used to moving in different ways.” Sofia agreed, appreciative that despite sometimes frustrating rehearsals, the actors are dedicated and helpful.

The spring musical is usually the most successful show of the year, Nicole said, and the theater team is hoping to draw excited crowds from all walks of Lab life to their performances of “Pippin,” taking place in the Sherry Lansing Theater at 7:30 p.m. May 17, 18 and 19. Tickets will be sold for $10 in the high school lobby or at the door.

“People have worked really hard on this,” Sofia said, and she’s hopeful students will keep open minds and excited attitudes. “Once you strip away the cloud of judgment that a lot of people have, you can really enjoy watching musicals and all kinds of performing arts.”