5 Questions with Gabrielle McClinton
The award-winning revival of Stephen Schwartz’s Pippin is heading to Philly’s Academy of Music later in February, featuring high-flying acrobatics created by Les 7 Doigts de la main throughout the production. The show also includes the memorable score and signature choreography in the style of the great Bob Fosse. But it may be the decision to cast a woman in the traditionally male Leading Player role that best sets the revival apart from the original. One of the actresses who has tackled the challenging part, Gabrielle McClinton, played the role both in New York and on tour. We caught up with McClinton to discuss her experience with Pippin, and how touring life is different than a steady one on Broadway.
Up until this revival, the Leading Player was always associated with Ben Vereen. How does the gender switch impact the role, if at all?
I don’t feel like it impacts it that much. I watched Ben Vereen on YouTube and was amazed by him, but when I went in for the role, if anything, it feels more awesome that a woman, especially an African-American woman, is doing it. She’s so strong and it is saying something that there is no difference between her and others.
I know that you went to Carnegie Mellon to study theater, so are you a Pennsylvania native? Is this your first time performing in Philly?
I’m from Los Angeles originally, but training at Carnegie Mellon was a really great experience. I performed in Philly at a press event at one of the local theaters, but this is the first time that I’m doing a full show.
You understudied and performed this role on Broadway and now on the tour. What’s the biggest challenge for you on the road compared to having a regular home in NYC?
Touring is really hard because you don’t have the things around you that are stable, like your home and your favorite restaurants and your favorite stores. The only constant is the show, but it is still exciting because you’re going to all of these different cities. We got to go to Tokyo! It’s an amazing part of it, but it is definitely hard. I think I prefer the stability, but it’s also really cool to have difference audiences and they inform the show in different ways.
I know this production uses a good amount of acrobatics and circus acts. That’s almost as intense as Fosse choreography. How do you keep yourself in shape and on target with this sort of movement?
I started off dancing, so luckily I’ve always felt in tune with my body. However, the Fosse choreography is so specific. As all of the “masters” say, you never really master it. Even to this day, I’ll still practice right before the show because it is really hard, but it’s really a great art form because it’s all derived from action, not so much from the technique of the step. It makes it more fun as an actress. I really have to take care of my body. I do a lot of yoga. Even with the trapeze elements, I did gymnastics when I was younger, so that made me feel comfortable with the acrobatics.
Pippin is one of those shows that everyone seems to find inspirational and memorable. What do you think makes it so iconic?
I think it is definitely memorable because there’s so much going on visually. The added element of the circus really brings about a heightened element. I tell people they have to see it a few times in order to get everything. It’s also inspiring because there are so many messages in the show. For an everyday person, it lets you take a good look at your own life. In that way, it makes you check in with yourself.
You can catch Gabrielle in Pippin at the Academy of Music from February 23 through February 28. For tickets and more information, click here.