Q&A: ‘Pippin’ cast members talk hip-hop anime take on classic musical

A male college student sits on a stage, surrounded by ten female actors.
Alex Collado PO ’20 stars in Pomona College’s production of “Pippin,” directed by Tim Dang. (Domenico Ottolia • The Student Life)

Directed by Tim Dang, “Pippin” is the latest production from the Pomona College Department of Theatre and Dance. It takes a classic musical production about a young man who tries to find meaning in his life and adds an anime hip-hop twist. TSL sat down with three actors in the play to talk all things “Pippin,” which will run until Sunday.

 

TSL: What kind of character development takes place for your character?

Alex Collado PO ’20 [Pippin]: So, Pippin starts off this journey as a college graduate. He’s wondering what to do next, and he feels like there’s something extraordinary that he’s meant to do. Throughout the show, he goes on [a] journey and adapts different personas to figure out what will stick. He goes through war, he has a little hoe phase and another character, the Leading Player, is leading him throughout his journey and promising him his time will come. So he [is always] frustrated and falls into a depressive state. It’s a very long journey for him.

TSL: How do you think the Claremont Colleges community will be able to connect to the musical? 

AC: The protagonist, Pippin, is [often] lost and unsure of what’s going to happen next. I think, honestly, that’s very relatable during the undergraduate phase [of college] because — you know the drill — we have to pick a major and figure out a career. It’s a lot of pressure. 

TSL: What do you like most about your character? 

AC: [Pippin] … puts on all of these different roles. It’s really fun to go from fighting a war … [to] leading a revolution [to] being in an orgy — yes, there’s an orgy scene! It’s very raunchy, but it’s just really fun doing the dances and movements [and] relating to him as a character. He carries a lot of trauma from the past … and he’s going through [a lot], but what’s behind that? [That] is something I’ve really enjoyed working through. 

TSL: What do you like the most about “Pippin”, the show? 

AC: I like the whole hip-hop, anime influence that we are doing. If you hear the “Pippin” soundtrack, the songs aren’t going to sound exactly like that. The dancing has been really fun [because of it] — less fussy moves and more hip-hop elements, which has been very, very fun.

TSL: What do you hope that people will take away from the musical?

The show ends with Pippin realizing that — I won’t reveal the details — but he realizes that something he did [prior] isn’t too little for him; maybe this is always what he wanted. [How] I interpreted [the show] is that you shouldn’t settle for anything less than what you truly believe is your worth. That’s an important lesson, not just in finding a job, but also in [everything] that makes up life. Just know your worth, respect yourself and see how far you can push yourself to truly go and to reach your maximum potential. 

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TSL: Could you tell us a bit about the character you play?

Tiffany Zhou PO ’21: I play Leading Player. Pippin is on his journey of self-discovery — he’s trying politics, patricide, promiscuity, and I am the narrator that is sharing his story with the audience, and things take a turn at the end. 

TSL: What do you like most about your role?

TZ: What I like the most is just being able to sing, dance and act. It’s all of my passions, but it’s also nerve-wracking because I’ve never done something of this size. I think it’s just me trying to step into some pretty big shoes — that’s been both really amazing but also really challenging.

TSL: What kind of character development takes place for your character?

TZ: Oh, well, it’s sort of a surprise … but, long story short, [the show] is my [character’s] baby, in a way. She wants everything to run perfectly, but it doesn’t. So, in the end, [the story] is supposed to be this beautiful finale, but it doesn’t happen. I think it’s a surprise that the audience will find really interesting.

TSL: How do you think that the Claremont Colleges community might be able to connect to the musical?

TZ: Honestly, I feel like all of us are Pippin in some way — we’re all in that transition between childhood and adulthood, figuring out what we want and who we are. So, Pippin’s journey of self-discovery [is] us: lost in life and trying to figure out our path.

TSL: What do you like most about “Pippin?”

TZ: I like that there’s just so much going on. I feel like there’s something that any audience member can relate to and enjoy, whether it’s a scene with a more somber tone, or a scene that’s more of a spectacle, like a fun dance number. It’s such a roller coaster of a narrative that keeps the audience on their toes, hopefully, fingers crossed.

TSL: What is your favorite part about acting in the musical?

TZ: This character has brought out a lot of different sides of me that I’ve never really explored before. Being able to play such a fascinating, sinister, exciting character and trying to make it my own has been really fun, as well as the process of figuring out who this Leading Player is.  

A female college student reaches into the air during a play performance.
Kendall Packman PO ’22 performs in “Pippin,” the Tony Award-winning musical by Stephen Schwartz. (Maddie Rubin-Charlesworth • The Student Life)

TSL: What do you like about the musical in general?

TZ: There are really wacky, silly elements to [the show] that are really entertaining. It’s enjoyable seeing everyone [have] these goofy moments throughout the show. It adds to the spectacle and magic of it all.

TSL: What is your character or role in the production of the musical?

Hershey Suri PO ’21: My character is Fastrada, I play Pippin’s evil stepmother of sorts … She orchestrates a plot to kill her husband and have her son Louis –– not Pippin –– be next in line for the throne.

TSL: What do you like most about your character?

HS: I didn’t know how I was going to feel about [my character]. I do like how powerful of a female character Fastrada is. I look to her as a character that takes advantage of the position she’s in, as opposed to just succumbing to a role that society casts on her. 

TSL: What is the most challenging aspect about playing Fastrada?

HS: I sing and hula hoop at the same time. That’s such a struggle, because I have to ask myself, … ‘How do I manipulate a hula hoop?’ but also, ‘Oh my god, what if something goes wrong?’ And going through [rehearsals], something has always gone wrong. So, I have to not only be Fastrada with the hula hoop, but also prepare for [a trick] going wrong and taking control of that situation.  

TSL: What do you like the most about the show?

HS: It really is a mindfuck of a show. In the original production, no one can expect the ending –– it takes a lot of thinking. But then, on top of that, our production is an anime hip-hop version, so it takes [something] so bizarre and makes it even more in tune with what makes our society wonderfully bizarre — this mix of different cultures and artistic styles. 

TSL: How do you think the Claremont Colleges community will be able to connect to the musical, and what do you hope for people to take away from it?

HS: I think [Pippin’s conflict] is a message that a lot of people, especially [5C students], can relate to, so I want the Claremont Colleges community to take away [that] being themselves is enough and [that] shooting for the stars is wonderful, but knowing that you are extraordinary in just embodying who you are is all you need.

This Q&A was edited for clarity and length.

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