Step into a colorful world of acrobatics, magic and more as “Pippin” closes the season for Broadway Theatre League of Northeastern Pennsylvania this weekend.
The league brings in the national tour of the Tony Award-winning musical for four performances from Friday, May 5, through Sunday, May 7, at Scranton Cultural Center at The Masonic Temple, 420 N. Washington Ave.
Set around 780 A.D. in the Holy Roman Empire, the show-within-a-show musical focuses on a young prince, Pippin, and his search for the meaning of life through war, murder and love — all told to the audience as a story told by a performance troupe.
“The way I describe it is that you see a young boy who’s trying to find some meaning to his life, and he tries an extraordinary life and then an ordinary life,” said Erica Cianciulli, who plays Pippin’s stepmother, Fastrada. “And it’s very relevant to what’s going on today in the world.”
“Pippin” opened on Broadway in 1972 with a book and choreography by Bob Fosse and music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Featuring such songs as “Corner of the Sky,” “Magic To Do” and “Morning Glow,” it ran for 1,944 performances and five previews before closing in 1977. Its only revival on the Great White Way came four years ago under the direction of Diane Paulus. That production closed in 2015.
The tour is based on the revival, which picked up four Tony Awards, including one for best revival of a musical. Many of the artistic team members from the Broadway revival worked with the tour at its rehearsals, and Paulus’ assistant directed the production and passed on her plans and vision, Cianciulli said. The show incorporates acrobatics and other circus-style entertainment, from hula hooping to knife throwing, plus Fosse-style choreography.
The acrobats all excel in different things, said Cianciulli, who grew up in Lansdale near Philadelphia.
“We have one girl who she went to school for German wheel. It’s like a big steel wheel, and she goes across the stage rolling through it,” she said. “And there’s all this cool stuff and a lot of two-highs and three-highs — people standing on each other’s shoulders. … And it’s interesting because it all just fits into the show somehow.”
Cianciulli doesn’t have to perform any of the acrobatics, but she does a few magic tricks. And as an understudy for the Leading Player character, she had to learn the trapeze routine just in case.
“It’s scary up there,” she said. “If you’re scared of heights, it’s not the best time.”
The cast has heard that the audience enjoys the acrobatics and magic tricks, Cianciulli said, but the songs draw a response, too. In “Magic To Do,” the Leading Player drops a curtain to reveal the acrobats and open the show.
“It’s just a bunch of colorful costumes and everything, which is pretty cool, which gets people excited for the show,” Cianciulli said.
She called “Corner of the Sky” the show’s biggest number because a lot of people know it and she knows many people who have performed it for auditions. And she pointed to “On the Right Track” and “Extraordinary” as big second-act pieces.
Cianciulli gets her own chance to shine. As the “evil, conniving stepmother” hoping to kill her husband and stay queen forever, Cianciulli said, Fastrada shares her plans in “Spread a Little Sunshine.”
When she comes to Scranton, she may even get to perform it for family members and friends making the trip up from the Philadelphia area. In the meantime, she enjoys sharing “Pippin’s” story across the country in her first theatrical tour, which kicked off in January.
“Of course I love doing the show,” Cianciulli said. “The show hasn’t gotten old for me at all. … I don’t really have a night where I’m like, ‘Eh, I don’t feel like doing the show.’ It’s so much fun and such a special show.”
— caitlin heaney west

If you go
What: “Pippin,” presented by Broadway Theatre League of Northeastern Pennsylvania
When: Friday, May 5, 8 p.m.; Saturday, May 6, 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, May 7, 1 p.m.
Where: Scranton Cultural Center at The Masonic Temple, 420 N. Washington Ave.
Details: The show runs approximately 2 hours, 20 minutes, and is recommended for ages 13 and older. Tickets are $37 to $59, available through the box office, 800-745-3000 and ticketmaster.com. For more information, visit broadwayinscranton.com.

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