Barnstormers bring their unique energy to Pippin

By SARAH SCHREIB | April 12, 2018

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COURTESY OF CLAIRE EDMONDS Mehdi El-Hebil played Lewis in the Barnstormers production of Hirson and Schwartz’s Pippin.

The Barnstormers premiered the first of six performances of their spring musical Pippin last Friday, April 6. The musical, written by Roger O. Hirson and Stephen Schwartz in 1972, tells the story of Pippin, the son of Charlemagne, who goes on a journey to find fulfillment in life. He is surrounded by a troupe of performers — the Players — headed by the charismatic Leading Player, who guide Pippin along his tumultuous path of dramatic battles, sexual awakening, family betrayal and love. 

The musical numbers, including the well-known “Magic to Do,” were grand and energetic and often brought the Players into the aisles. The show also presents a range of skills and tricks, from miming and ballet to puppetry and guitar.

In addition to the music and the spectacle, the most notable element of the show is the performances of the central characters. Junior Sophia Diodati, who stars as the Leading Player, is captivating in a role that requires bold and highly skilled singing, dancing and acting. Diodati previously starred in the student-written musical Plus Sign. This is her first Barnstormers production.

In an email to The News-Letter, Diodati described her experience analyzing, researching and ultimately performing this complex role. 

“This character has absolutely been the most challenging role I’ve ever had the opportunity to take on. While exteriorly she seems whimsical and mysterious, she ends up being far more calculated, conniving — even sinister — than what one assumes,” she wrote. “What makes her so difficult to unpack is the fact that she is human and I wanted to play her as humanly as possible, which makes her even more tragic in her own charming way.” 

For Diodati, the most exciting number to perform was the finale.

“It’s the shattering moment that pulls you away from the spectacle of ‘the play within the play,’ and it’s not until this moment that the Leading Player truly reveals her most honest self,” she wrote. “What I love most about the Leading Player is her passion for what she believes in. It becomes quite evident by the end of the show that this play that her troupe presents is truly her life-blood.”

Sophomore Sebastian Durfee, who also performed in the Barnstormers production of Spring Awakening, stars as Pippin. Durfee brings a nuanced sensibility to the role: Pippin is at once scholarly, innocent, passionate and deeply unsatisfied. He elaborated on his process of preparing for the titular character in an email to The News-Letter.

“Pippin was a tough role to really get a handle on, because the show spans so many topics and emotions that you can’t spend too much energy in one place or you’ll find yourself falling behind everywhere else,” he wrote. “The part has its fair share of comedic as well as emotional moments, which meant that much of my work throughout the process depended heavily on the reactions and opinions of my peers — it involved a lot of just trying things out and seeing what worked.”

Pippin also marks the final performances for many Hopkins seniors who are graduating from their Barnstormers careers this spring. Senior Allie Zito, a member of the Players, has been involved in the Barnstormers since her freshman year both on and off stage. 

Zito reflected on what she has learned throughout her four years in Hopkins theatre.

“I have learned that every single person brings something important to the table,” she wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “There is also a place for every type of person in the theater community, no matter what interests you. Also, through theater, I’ve learned that it’s okay to get lost in another world for a little while. Life at Hopkins is tough enough; giving yourself a release it absolutely necessary.”

Zito also remarked on what she hopes audiences will take away from seeing the production this season. 

“I hope we make audiences think for a moment. I hope that people are able to enjoy the magic and embrace the moral of the story. Most of all, though, I hope that we give you the chance to escape from your ordinary lives into the extraordinary world of Pippin,” she wrote.

Durfee echoed Zito’s thoughts on the role of both surface spectacle and deeper messages in the show.

“I hope audiences go into the show expecting to be entertained and emerge having been given so much more,” he wrote. “That’s what’s so incredible about Pippin — it’s a spectacle, it’s enjoyable and fun to watch, but it also has so much to say, so much that you can take away. I hope audiences can leave the show thinking, ‘Huh. Now I have to reevaluate my own life.’ That’s the goal.”

The final performances of Pippin will take place in the Swirnow Theater, from April 13 through April 15. 

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