2017-11-16 / Front Page

CHANGE IN COMMAND AT COMMUNITY THEATER

‘Pippin’ is first play under new brass following Wright’s retirement
BY RYAN GIBBS


Morgan Capodilupo hits a high note during ‘Pippin’ rehearsal Sunday afternoon at the recreation center. She will act as narrator for the Tony Award-winning musical. Elevated behind her is Jeremy Chiang, a University of Rhode Island theater student who will portray the lead character. 
PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN Morgan Capodilupo hits a high note during ‘Pippin’ rehearsal Sunday afternoon at the recreation center. She will act as narrator for the Tony Award-winning musical. Elevated behind her is Jeremy Chiang, a University of Rhode Island theater student who will portray the lead character. PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN When the Jamestown Community Theatre presents its production of “Pippin,” it will be the first time since George H.W. Bush’s presidency without Mary Wright or Patti Vandal at the helm.

Yet, according to the ageless adage, the show must go on.

Ricky Martin and Matt Bolles are the new co-artistic directors following Wright’s retirement as its longtime leader. She handpicked the duo because she wants to spend more time with her husband. Also, she felt the troupe needed “new blood” to survive and remain popular with the community. Bolles, Wright said, has the experience, while Martin adds a flair of youthful creativity with a dash of humor.


Ricky Martin (blue shirt) attentively listens to his cast during a ‘Pippin’ rehearsal. The play marks his debut as artistic director of the Jamestown Community Theatre. 
PHOTO BYANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN Ricky Martin (blue shirt) attentively listens to his cast during a ‘Pippin’ rehearsal. The play marks his debut as artistic director of the Jamestown Community Theatre. PHOTO BYANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN “I knew they’d be wonderful,” she said.

A dynamic duo

Martin, 35, will direct this production. He joked that Wright planned to name him as her successor from the moment they met in 2015. That was at the Jamestown Arts Center during a musical tribute to Judy Garland, the actress and singer best known for her portrayal of Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.” Martin was in the audience when Wright approached him.

“She just struck up a conversation in a very Mary fashion,” he said.

Wright learned about his passion for the performing arts during that encounter, which led to her invitation for him to join the theater’s board. Since then, he has been deeply involved, including the children’s Shakespeare camp over the summer.

The plan was for Martin and Wright to be co-directors so he could ease into the role, but she decided to step down sooner rather than later. Bolles, who has been involved with the theater since its founding 27 years ago, was appointed in her stead.

“He brings a wealth of experience with the organization,” Martin said. “I bring what a relative outsider can bring, which is new ideas and new energy for the program. I think the combination works really well.”

Although “Pippin” will be his first major directing gig, Martin is no stranger to the stage. He acted in children’s theaters while growing up in East Providence and directed productions of “Angels in America” and “Godspell” while attending Columbia University in New York City.

His involvement with theater slowed after he graduated from the Ivy League school in 2004 with a double major in comparative literature and anthropology. When he enrolled at Princeton University to complete his doctorate in anthropology, his interests shifted toward classical music until his graduation in 2011.

Martin currently teaches freshman writing courses at Harvard University. His classes typically don’t reflect theater, but his course on witches in popular culture includes an assignment based on an article from the musical “Wicked.”

Family-friendly affair

Martin and Bolles chose “Pippin,” the story of Charlemagne’s first-born son as he searches for the meaning of life and true happiness, as their maiden voyage together because of its relatively small cast. While there only are seven principal roles, there are plenty of ensemble characters that feature children.

The story of “Pippin” was slightly amended to accommodate the theater’s atmosphere, which is family-friendly. Some adult scenes were toned down or removed. For instance, a scene in the first act in which the main character pursues a romance was changed into an exchange ceremony of Hawaiian leis. However, Martin said, this particular alteration retains the irreverent tone of the original script.

“The double entendre, of course, will not be lost on the adults, but not visible to the kids,” he said. “That’s an example of how we were able to remain faithful to the script.”

Although Wright has retired from her managerial role, that does not necessarily mean she will vanish from the theater and its future productions. For instance, she will portray Berthe, the titular character’s grandmother, at least once during the production’s three-day run. She chose that role because of the song “No Time at All,” which Berthe sings in the first act. That was the most memorable scene of the musical when she first saw it several decades ago.

“It’s an upbeat song about how you’ve got to appreciate life and you’ve got to keep going for it,” she said. “I was young then; now I am the age of Berthe.”

Wright will turn 70 two days after the production closes. “I feel as if it’s so timely for me,” she said.

Although Wright wanted to play Berthe for all four performances, she scaled back her involvement because of family emergency. Still, Martin is glad Wright can take the stage in some capacity.

“She’s a fantastic performer,” he said. “I was super excited when she was interested in auditioning. It’s really great having her at rehearsal because she can share her advice and wisdom.”

Wright co-founded the community theater in 1990 with Vandal, who died in November 2010. The women were given $500 by the town’s drug prevention task force to produce a play that featured children. That inaugural production, a musical adaptation of “Peter Pan,” was a hit, breeding biannual productions for the last 27 years. In 2016, the troupe performed the Holocaust drama “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.” It also produced an anthology that Martin helped direct.

After “Pippin” finishes its run, Martin and Bolles will focus their attention on the spring show. For that production, and into the future, Martin, of Court Street, wants to continue growing the theater outside Jamestown. “Pippin” marks the first time a show has been advertised off the island. It received a solid response, Martin said, with out-of-towners joining the cast and board.

“This has been a good recruitment effort,” he said. “Of course, we’re keeping Jamestown as the core of the community theater, but also really being able to bring in talent from surrounding communities to make Jamestown a hub for the performing arts.”

If you want to go

What: The Jamestown Community Theatre presents “Pippin”

When: 7 p.m. Nov. 17- 18 and 2 p.m. Nov. 18-19

Where: The Jamestown Recreation Center, 41 Conanicus Ave.

Cost: $12 in advance at Baker’s Pharmacy, Secret Garden, Midnight Sun, Pleasant Surprise. Admission is $15 at the door. Students and senior citizens receive a $5 discount.

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