Colleen Hammond | Opinions Editor
The PNC theater at Point Park University buzzed with excitement as the cast of Stephen Schwartz’s Pippin slipped into costume for their opening night preview on the evening of Thursday, March 12. In a flurry of hairspray, sequins and hand sanitizer, the actors and crew prepped for the beginning of the long-awaited run of the show.
However, just an hour before the curtain rose, artistic director Steven Breese had to break the news to his students. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, Broadway was closing its doors until mid-April, and Point Park would be following suit. The remainder of the show’s run would be canceled. This preview show would be the one and only performance of Pippin.
“I at least thought we would get through the first weekend,” senior stage manager Emily Weingardt said.
In one night, as anxieties grew high among the cast and crew, Weingardt felt equally distressed.
“I was about to helm a ship that was sinking,” said Weingardt.
Despite the disappointment felt by the students at the short-lived production, many are deeply proud of their work. While Pippin typically tells the tale of a young man searching for life’s meaning through a series of poor choices and a life in the circus, Point Park’s creative team made the bold choice to flip this classic tale on its head to fit a modern audience.
“I think it was exactly in line with what we’re experiencing,” sound designer and Point Park student Peter Brucker said.
The musical’s themes of identity, isolation, fear of the unknown and appreciation for life spoke deeply to the audience of Point Park students who got to the one-night-only show. This first and final performance served as a last goodbye for many of Point Park’s students.
“Pippin is really a celebration. I think it lifts your spirits,” Christen Schoenle, a sophomore costume stitcher for the production said.
Sitting in the audience, she finally got to see the dazzling costumes she spent hours altering and gluing sequins to.
Instead of adhering to the traditional circus motif found in the many variations of Pippin, this production was inspired by the post-modern glamour of the annual MET Gala and MTV award shows. To achieve these aesthetics, designers used new and innovative methods along with lots of glittering costumes.
For the first time in his career, Brucker created a full cinematic sound design for the production.
“My sound design makes the theater feel like it’s going to collapse,” Brucker said.
His work was paired with that of video designer Antonio Colaruotolo. To fully capture the feeling of MTV, Colaruotolo utilized a series of large projection screens and live cameras. This massive production featured 22 actors — the largest cast many of the designers had ever worked with.
It was not just the designers who contributed to this innovative theatrical feat. Sophomore musical theater student Caleb Mathura rehearsed for weeks on end to bring the title character to life.
“I love being able to take a new approach when it comes to shows,” Mathura said. “As an actor, it gave me a new perspective.”
Mathura’s performance was his last of the year, as all Point Park productions are in the process of rescheduling or potentially cancelling. In addition, all Point Park classes have been converted online for the remainder of the semester. This proves highly difficult for students in the arts who rely on in-person contact with their instructors and mentors.
While he was saddened to end his semester so abruptly, Mathura is hopeful for the future.
“We need to take our education into our own hands,” Mathura said.
In the final hours of Point Park’s remaining open, Pippin’s cast served as a beacon of hope for the student body who will be separated until the coronavirus pandemic is no longer a pending threat.
“I wish more people could have seen them,” Schoenle said. “They were so good.”
Due to the late notice of the show’s cancellation, many performers’ families were unable to attend the show. Luckily for the cast and crew, the audience of fellow students made their appreciation for the production known.
“I have never heard a larger roar from an audience,” Weingardt said.
As the curtain fell that first and final night, the cast and crew bowed to a standing ovation. Despite the unexpected ending to their school year, students involved were grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this grand production.
“We wouldn’t trade that one night for 10 more shows,” Mathura said.