Originally created 02/22/98

Theatre magic



Standing at the backstage door of the Maxwell Performing Arts Theatre, Michael Strelecki fidgets in the too-small pair of tights he was issued.

Several people passing by comment on his attire. "Oohh Michael, you look so cute," says one girl, who heads into theater giggling.

He shrugs it off with a sheepish grin.

"Tights are something I don't think any actor looks forward to," said Mr. Strelecki, who is playing the title role in the Augusta State University Theatre Company's production of the Broadway musical Pippin.

Despite the tights, which are later adjusted, he is looking forward to Wednesday night's opening of the show, which is a combination of music, dance, drama and magical illusions.

"There's so much to enjoy," he said. "This musical is wonderful."Pippin, written by Roger O. Hirson and Stephen Schwartz, is a play about a group of entertainers -- magicians, singers, actors and dancers -- who re-enact the life of Pippin, the son of Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne.

"It's really a play within a play," said choreographer Cammy Fisher.

Pippin, heir-apparent to the Holy Roman Empire, struggles to find his purpose in life.

"It's a story about a young man who feels empty and vacant," said Ms. Fisher. " There's a story to be told that's timeless. We're all searching."

But Pippin's systematic immersion in books, battle, sex, religion, art and family life don't seem to satisfy.

"He's trying to find something he can throw himself into with all of his heart," said Mr. Strelecki, paraphrasing one of his lines from the play.

The prince even kills his father and takes over the throne for a while.

The score of the play, originated on Broadway in the 1970s with Ben Vereen in the title role, includes the songs Magic To Do, Corner of the Sky, With You and I Guess I'll Miss the Man.

When auditioning for the musical, Mr. Strelecki had no idea what the play was about -- he only knew that it was from the '70s. He was expecting disco balls, platform shoes or something like Hair.

The show does contain some '70s flash and glitz, including cabaret-style magical illusions.

"Magic is definitely a part of this show, but it is not the focus," said technical director Martin Kooi, who toned down some of the illusions so they wouldn't detract from the plot.

The 20-member cast also features

soul singer James Brown's daughter Deanna Thomas as one of the lead narrators. "I tell what happens. I do the talking. I'm the ringmaster," said Mrs. Thomas.

With the combination of drama, dance, song and constant movement, she said the show offers a little bit for everyone -- for the cast and audiences alike.

"It's one of those spread-yourwings type of shows," said Mrs. Thomas, who is making her theatrical debut. "You have to use all of your body parts from head to toe."

But she said she found out she can't sing solo.

"She really can't sing," confirms singing and dancing ensemble member Jamie Yorio.

Not to worry, said director Gene Muto, because his group doesn't fret too much about the vocals, which he says dooms most amateur musical theater productions.

Mr. Muto described Pippin as "a terrific story and a perfect fit" for the student theater company.

But it may not be a perfect fit for all audiences. Parents be careful, Pippin is recommended for mature audiences. Children younger than 5 are prohibited.

ON STAGE

What: Pippin
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: Grover C. Maxwell Performing Arts Theatre, 2500 Walton Way
How much: $8 available at the door
Phone: 737-1500