This Saturday marks the beginning of two weekends at the Steppingstone Playhouse as the talented teens of MAPA’s Teen Summer Musical Theatre Camp present their rendition of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Pippin.
The play showcases a magical performance troupe that tells the story of Pippin, a young prince searching for meaning and his purpose in life. The cast includes teenagers from ages 14 to 18 who have dedicated more than 200 hours to intense training in acting, dancing and singing. With 30 students from six different Maui high schools and two students from the mainland, this year’s summer production is filled with many diverse talents.
Director Sally Sefton said that MAPA always tries to pick a show that has a message for the kids. “It’s not just about beautiful songs and nice dancing, it’s about what they can take away from the show,” Sefton said. “For me, the lesson of Pippin is that it’s not about being elevated to some high status in life, it’s not about riches, it’s not about asserting your strength through war. It’s about love. It’s about the human heart.”
Sefton said that she’s seen a lot of these teens grow as actors over the course of time and is excited for them to perform a play with more adult themes. “It’s hard to find a play that’s kind of sophisticated enough for the kids that’s also considered kid-friendly,” Sefton said. “At the same time, these kids, we’ve worked together for the last four or five years so they’ve sort of grown into this play.”
The original play incorporates a lot of sexuality but Sefton toned it down for MAPA’s version of the story. “There’s this song in which Pippin is supposed to have all these women and it’s very sexy in the original but we made it into a ballet,” Sefton said. “The same thing is implied: that he has all of these women that he falls in love with but it’s done in a much more tasteful and elegant way. It’s beautiful.”
Choreography Katie Higuchi said she was excited to be able to mix the original choreography with her own ideas, such as in the scene described above. “A lot of the choreography in this version of Pippin is actual Broadway choreography,” Higuchi said. “That’s not all that common when you see a high school show somewhere, so I’m really proud of the way it looks on the kids.”
Higuchi had the privilege of studying under Ann Reinking, who learned the choreography directly from Bob Fosse, the director of the original Broadway production. “She’s sort of a second generation student of Bob Fosse and she is teaching this whole style of dance that even the most advance dancers in this group have never done,” Sefton said. (Click here for some examples of Fosse’s work.)
Higuchi said she is very impressed by how well the teens of MAPA have adapted to Fosse’s nuanced style. “I’ve been so lucky to have this group of kids who are really getting the style,” she said. “They’re enjoying it and rising to the occasion. We have some of MAPA’s best singers and dancers, probably the island’s best singers and dancers. These kids are really good.”
Musical director Marti Kluth said that these young actors have some of the best qualities anyone in show business could have. “They’re dedicated, they’re talented, they’re enthusiastic, they’re great as a team and they work together very well,” Kluth said. “A lot of them are return students to MAPA who have done shows in the past, so they really bring a certain amount of expertise to the camp.”
Cast member Emma Smith is one of those students. “This is my seventh play here at MAPA and I think that this is going to be the coolest because we get to do a whole bunch of magic and really explore our character,” Smith said. “It’s going to be different than all the other characters I’ve played before.”
Sefton said that she is particularly proud of another return student, Kaimana Neil, who was cast as Pippin. “He’s grown to be such a great singer, dancer and actor,” Sefton said. “On stage he lets you in, in a way that’s rare and really powerful.”
Neil said that it wasn’t hard to develop a connection to his character because everyone goes through the struggle of trying to define themselves. “Everyone is always just looking and trying out different things that they can do,” he said. “People have so many different careers over their lifetime and you just want to find that one perfect thing that suits you. I feel that way and it definitely relates [to Pippin].”
Sefton and Kluth agreed that their favorite part of the show is the scene in which Neil sings “Morning Glow.” “It pretty much makes me cry every time I see it because it’s about people having hope,” Sefton said. “[Neil] is so brilliant at singing that song, he’s such an open-hearted performer.”
Kluth said that Neil sings this song extremely well and when the rest of the cast chimes in, it makes the scene even more powerful. “They’re just doing a killer job with it,” Kluth said. “The harmony is awesome, the lead player is awesome and it’s a really poignant and tender and important scene.”
Sefton said that she feels very blessed to be apart of this group, as a director and also as an educator. “This camp is about more than just putting on the show, the show is kind of a vehicle for teaching,” Sefton said. “I want the kids to grow as actors but also as people.”
As opening night approaches, this cast of teens are ready to use the skills they have learned throughout the course of this camp, both on and off stage. Jacob Aloi, who flew out from Utah to play Pippin’s half-brother Lewis, said that he’s so happy to have the opportunity to perform in this show. “I got the chance to go to New York and see [Pippin] on Broadway and to this day, it is my favorite show ever,” Aloi said. “It’s going to be fantastic. Definitely come see it.”
Pippin runs six performances: two this weekend on July 5 and July 6 along with four more shows July 10-13. Pippin is rated PG and is recommended for ages 13 and up. Tickets can be purchased here or at the customer service kiosk at Queen Ka’ahumanu Center.
Showtimes: Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 3pm. $15 adults, $12 students (18 and under); Steppingstone Playhouse (Queen Ka’ahumanu Center, Kahului); 808-244-8760, Mauiacademy.org.
– Ashley Probst (@ashprobsticle)
Photo courtesy of MAPA/Jack Grace