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    Veteran actor John Rubinstein brings the role of Charles to life in PIPPIN, the musical set to grace the Kentucky Center stage next week as the final installment of PNC Broadway in Louisville’s 2014-2015 season.

    Charles, the father of the title character, is not the first role the versatile Rubinstein has commanded in the production.

    In 1972, when PIPPIN first premiered on Broadway, Rubinstein was in that title slot. He was the original Pippin. Now, 43 years and a myriad of experiences later, Rubinstein is back in the National Tour.

    He shared some of his thoughts on the production, and on his half-century in The Business, with Louisville is the Derby City in Bourbon Country. We know horses and bourbon, but not a lot of folks here know about PIPPIN. Tell us about the production.

    JR: As it happens, I am much more familiar and experienced with horses than I am with bourbon, so I’m very happy to be visiting Louisville for that reason alone. 

    Pippin, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Roger O. Hirson, is the story of a young man seeking to find something meaningful, extraordinary and fulfilling to do with his life. He is metaphorically led through a series of adventures and life experiments by a “leading player” and a troupe of performers, and he ultimately finds that the choices he is faced with are not what he expected them to be.

    Bob Fosse created the framework for this show in 1972 using Dance, with Broadway’s most dazzling dancers, and Ben Vereen as the Leading Player to tell the story. More than 40 years later, Diane Paulus has teamed up with circus guru Gypsy Snider and choreographer Chet Walker to recreate the show with Circus and Acrobatics providing the format for the storytelling, and the results are explosive, hilarious, astonishing, and uplifting. It has been a tremendous honor, and a thrilling ride, for me to play roles in both of these productions, almost half a century apart. And in the 2015 production, you play Charles, Pippin's father. But you originated the role of Pippin in 1972. How has the show changed in that time?

    JR: What’s changed mostly are the times. PIPPIN opened during the Vietnam war, which was on TV every night, and during the draft, so virtually every family was in some way personally affected by that war. The three assassinations, of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King, were also still very fresh in everyone’s mind, the traumas not yet healed.

    This revival is also being presented during wartime, now sadly a rather permanent condition in our country, though the wars are now basically banished from nightly TV; and with no national draft, most families these days are relatively indifferent to - even unaware of - the wars this country can’t seem to get enough of. So what was chilling, deeply ironic and personal and dark in the early seventies is now much more entertaining and fun. It’s still a great show, but the emphasis now is on the fireworks and light and laughter, whereas before the focus was quite a bit more sinister and sarcastic. You've worked in every genre, every possible setting. You've directed, composed, done orchestrations, you teach college classes...And after everything you've done, you've come back to do another national tour. What was the impetus behind that decision?

    JR: I love to travel. My last national tour was 47 years ago, and the country has changed so much, I felt it was a chance to visit all these fascinating cities, to see all the beautiful new theaters that have been built with such imagination and taste, and to feel the pulse of the country again. My oldest children are married and settled, my middle children are away in college, and my youngest and his mom have been visiting me throughout the whole tour every few weeks, and that has been a tremendously enlightening and enjoyable series of mini-vacations and discoveries for them, and fun for us all as a family. And it’s a great show that happens to mean a lot to me personally, with a fabulous cast whom I love deeply and am proud to share a stage with every night. And it’s a paycheck every Thursday. Very welcome, and very unusual in my business. For those of us who wake up in the same city every day, explain the good, the bad and the ugly of being on tour.

    JR: The good is the whole amazing experience of bringing this wonderful show to people around the country who love the theater but can’t always get to New York. They are so happy and excited and expressive and passionate.

    There is no ugly.

    The bad? Well, it’s tough doing mostly week-long engagements where your one day off is a travel day, frequently a full day’s journey. So one can get a bit exhausted from simply not having a complete day of rest for months. Whenever we stay in a town for two, or even three weeks, it’s a bonanza, because we get a full 24-hour day in there with no obligations. Also, most towns, even huge cities, in the United States seem to go to bed around 10 pm. Everything closes down. That’s a pain in the butt if you jump out of a theater hungry and full of energy at 11 pm and there’s nowhere to eat or hang out except back in your hotel room. In Europe, people respect and enjoy the night time; all kinds of places stay open for night people. And finally, it’s hard being away this much from my lady and my children and my dogs and my piano. That’s really the hardest part.

    Everything else is absolutely terrific.


    The Tony Award winning production of PIPPIN runs at the Kentucky Center Tuesday, June 2 through Sunday, June 7. Tickets start at $28 and are available online, at the Kentucky Center box office or by calling 502-584-7777.

    Image: Courtesy of PIPPIN National Tour/T.Shapiro


    Michelle Rynbrandt's picture

    About Michelle Rynbrandt

    Before landing in the Possibility City, Michelle toured the country performing in various regional theatres. Having been there and done that, she can honestly say that Louisville's cultural opportunities are second to none.

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