By George Basler 

The cast and crew of SPARE Productions know they are taking on a daunting challenge in staging the musical Pippin Aug. 12-14 at Binghamton High School’s Helen Foley Theatre. 

Not only does the show require the 10 cast members to do a large amount of synchronized movement and acrobatics, but their rehearsal period has been compressed. Work on Pippin didn’t begin in earnest until after SPARE’s previous production, Fugitive Songs, wrapped on July 21. (That show had been postponed from June due to a positive COVID test in the cast.) 

“It’s been an adventure, “said director Eli Michael Carlin. “We’re doing an unconventional show in a tight time frame.” 

Pippin with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Roger O. Hirson, was a major hit on Broadway when it opened in 1972, directed by the legendary Bob Fosse. A 2013 Broadway revival was a hit as well. 

One of the show’s claims to fame is that both Ben Vereen and Patina Miller won Tony Awards for their portrayals of The Leading Player (in the original Broadway production and the 2013 revival, respectively), making them the first actors to win Tonys for Best Leading Actor and Best Leading Actress in a Musical for the same role. 

The musical features a 1970s pop-style score as it tells the story of Pippin, the son of Charlemagne, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, as he searches for meaning and significance in his life. A performing troupe, led by The Leading Player, comments on the action. 

While Pippin and Charlemagne were real people, the musical is pure fiction. It features surreal aspects and a “show within a show” element. A dark tone occasionally peeks through its razzle dazzle surface. 

SPARE is basing its production on the 2013 revival that kept Fosse’s original structure while being “more flashy,” “more loose” and “more acrobatic,” Carlin said. “I would describe it as a circus. It’s a fun, vibrant show that also tells an important story”. 

Matt Gaska is playing The Leading Player while also co-directing the production. Christopher DaCosta is Pippin. Morgan Taylor is playing his love interest, Catherine, while also doing the show’s choreography. 

The short rehearsal time has meant that the production team has had to make some adjustments. “There is no time to drill hard dances,” Carlin noted. Instead, the cast is working on movement and counting to the beat in the musical numbers. The cast also has worked on incorporating some “small, safe lifts” and tumbling into the show, Carlin said. 

“We’re aware of the contracted time frame, but we’re all invested in making it work,” Carlin said. Passion for the show is propelling him and the cast, he added. 

SPARE Productions was founded in 2012 by college students looking to perform when they came home during school breaks. While it now includes members of all ages, most of the performers in Pippin are between 20 and 24 years old, Carlin said. He’s 27 himself. 

Gaska said he’s working to bring “the Fosse energy” into his performance and put his own stamp on his role. It’s been “quite electric” to see the cast come together on short notice to learn acrobatics and choreography and become an ensemble, he added. 

Carlin, a graduate of Greene High School, currently lives Las Vegas, Nev. where he is studying screen and stage acting at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He had planned to direct Pippin back in 2020, but COVID forced a cancellation. He came back to this area temporarily to direct the current production. 

“A lot of (Pippin) speaks to me personally,” he said, notingthat the musical’s theme of finding yourself through a journey is one he relates to, because he is going through a similar journey himself. 

The SPARE cast will perform to a prerecorded music track, not a live orchestra. Carlin said he would have preferred working with an orchestra, but there was not enough rehearsal time to make it work. 

Audience members should expect “a fun, funny show” with underlying moments of introspection, he said. 

IF YOU GO: SPARE Productions will perform Pippin Friday-Sunday (Aug. 12-14) at Binghamton High School’s Helen Foley Theatre. Friday and Saturday’s performances are at 7 p.m.; Sunday’s is at 2 p.m. Tickets at $15 ($12 for students and seniors) can be purchased at the door. To reserve tickets in advance, email SPARE at