On the road With ‘Pippin’

The musical “Pippin” originally opened on Broadway in 1972.  With a score by Stephen Schwartz (“Wicked,” “Godspell”), the show was created under the watchful eye of iconic director and choreographer Bob Fosse.

In 2012, “Pippin” was revived under the watchful eye of inventive director Diane Paulus.  Her bold new production first came to life at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge (where she’s artistic director) before heading to New York.  Paulus put her own stamp on things by re-imagining the show within an eye-popping, circus-inspired setting.  Broadway critics raved and “Pippin” picked up a Tony Award as Best Musical Revival.

As the curtain rises, a troupe of players has gathered to tell the story of Pippin, a young prince in search of significance in his life.  Should he settle for a happy but simple existence or go for that moment of glory?

John Rubinstein, who originated the role of Pippin in the 1972 production, plays King Charles, Pippin’s father, in the touring production, playing the Boston Opera House from Feb. 2 to Feb. 14. 

Dublin-born Alan Kelly is one of the players as well as understudy for the role of The King. The actor-singer-dancer trained at the National Performing Arts School and the College Of Dance in Dublin.

He was subsequently awarded a scholarship to Laine Theatre Arts in London, graduating with a national diploma in Professional Musical Theatre and a national diploma in Professional Speech and Drama from Trinity College London.

Kelly is also a sought-after voice-over artist.  You may have heard his voice in ads for companies including Google, Bank of Ireland, Guinness, Kerrygold, Apple, BMW and McDonalds, among others.

We spoke by phone when the show was in Memphis.  Boston marks the 50th city on the show’s tour.

Q. Since this revival of “Pippin” first came to life at the ART before heading to Broadway, Bostonians feel a warm sense of ownership with this show.  What was it like working with Diane Paulus?
A. She’s so creative.  She’s got this incredible vision and it was really great working with her.  We did her famous presentation workshops, which she does with all her shows . . . It really added another dimension to the show.  We weren’t just being directed by her – “Stand here. Say this.”  She didn’t tell us what to think, she’d tell us how to think . . .  It was nice to have that approach from a director. 

Q. Her vision of “Pippin” incorporates a circus setting.  Did you have to master any new skills?
A. Yeah, I had to learn a contortion trick for the show, which I had zero experience in.  I can’t say too much because it’s like a magic trick, and I can’t give away the magic . . . I just had to do it, learn it, and be proficient  . . . In another scene we do partner work and I had to partner with another guy.  That was new for me . . . We both lift each other and that was another new experience. It was really cool.

Q. You’ve performed throughout Europe in everything from “Aida” and “We Will Rock You” to “Cinderella” and “Tanz Der Vampire.” But “Pippin” is your first tour in America. That has to be exciting.
A. I moved to New York three years ago. I was auditioning in New York for about a year and got this show, so I was very lucky.

Q. I know “Pippin” played Japan.  How were audiences there?  They have a reputation for being a bit quiet.
A. They loved it! They loved it!  We heard so many rumors that they weren’t going to applaud until the very end of each act . . . It wasn’t like that at all. They were so respectful . . . They always brought us gifts after the show.

Q. Any special mentors in your life?
A. Working with John Rubinstein and Adrienne Barbeau (a member of the cast in Memphis) has been a lesson in consistency and professionalism. They have both been absolutely wonderful to me and given me lots of advice.  They’ve just been there.  When you’re on the road you really only have each other and you become very close.  You become good friends, which has been really nice. So it’s nice to have confidants.

Q. When you’re not working in the ensemble, you understudy John’s role of The King. Have you had an opportunity to go on?
A. I have, but not often.  John is an absolute machine. He’s incredible like that.  So I’ve only played the role four times in the past year and a half.  With John, there are some big shoes to fill. He is fantastic.

Q. Beyond the show schedule, you also do a lot of voice-over work.  In a way, that has to be a treat. No costumes. No make-up. Just you, a microphone, and a computer, from wherever you are.
A. It has been ideal, being on the road, like a little second career for me. I’ve been doing it for about five years . . . You get to create all these crazy little characters.  It’s usually short little gigs, so it’s been a nice way to have a distraction on the road when things are quiet.

Q. When did the performing bug first bite?
A. I was very, very late to the game.  I started out at 17.  I just really enjoyed watching the old movie musicals, “Dirty Dancing” and all those dance movies, and just decided I wanted to give it a go.

Q. What are your memories of studying in Dublin and London?
A. I remember it being very tough. It was very heavily dance-based.  What I wanted to do was be an actor.  (But) they just had so (many) dance courses that I found I was a good dancer. . . It was great. We did ballet, jazz, contemporary, tap, hip-hop, everything.

Q. Your dance credits are really impressive.  Do you have an emphasis?  What do you enjoy the most?
A. Probably theater jazz.  (“Pippin”) is a Bob Fosse show.  I feel like I found something I really, really, really, enjoy.  It’s such a great style to dance. It’s all about the feelings you get when you dance, you know?  It’s very self-indulgent.  And sexy.  I really enjoy that side of storytelling, through this style of dance.

R. J. Donovan is editor and publisher of onstageboston.com.

“Pippin,” Feb. 2-14, Boston Opera House, 539 Washington St., Boston.  Info: 800-982-2787 or BroadwayInBoston.com.