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Pippin Gets Punk Rock Facelift

Herndon High School’s drama re-shapes modern classic musical.

The teenagers sat on the floor and leaned against each other, for the girls: frilly lace skirts poking out over pink fishnet stockings, school girl kilts atop Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars. For the guys: mesh shirts draped over tight shirt sleeves designed to look like tribal tattoos, dark retro 1940s Fedora hats casting shadows on vintage Minor Threat punk rock band t-shirts.

"Everyone here is wearing their full costumes today to see how they will work under the lights," said Sarah Bever, director of Herndon High School’s drama department to her student acting troupe while standing on the school’s auditorium stage. "Today is all about the light cues, and I am super incredibly passionate about getting this done right … before we get out of here tonight."

The quick speech from Bever preceded just one of the performances in the final full week of rehearsals for the Herndon High School students who, on April 19, 20 and 21, will perform their own, original rendition of the modern classic musical comedy "Pippin" for fellow students and area residents.

THE BROADWAY musical, first performed in 1981, tells the story of the young prince, son of King Charlemagne, who searches for his place and purpose in life in the Middle Ages upon his graduation from school. It is one of the earlier works of award-winning American playwright Stephen Schwartz, who would later go on to write the modern Broadway smash hit, "Wicked."

But when it came time to design how the play would be presented, Bever and her students wanted to take its themes and run with it in their own artistic direction, and came up with an entirely original style.

"I love the story of ‘Pippin,’ but I hated the idea of getting cheap-looking medieval clothes and a plastic crown," said Bever. "When I really looked at it, I saw that a lot of the themes of ‘Pippin’ have a lot of similarities between modern youth and punk culture, so why not blend those themes together?"

"I was looking for something to brighten it up, to liven it up, and the punk style seemed to do that."

As a result, the "medieval punk" theme for Herndon High School’s adaptation of "Pippin" was conceived, and the students enthusiastically joined with Bever in bringing the new vision for the musical to life. Everything from the costumes, stage blocking, lighting and set decoration, became subject to the new theme, as the students looked to shape the play into their own vision, Bever said.

"I really like the lighting, it’s fun where it’s not just a normal white wash with a single colored background," said Herndon High School senior Sallie Hall, 17, stage manager for Pippin. "It’s all different colors and shapes all over … it’s going to be like a rock concert."

The play’s costume design was overseen by Bever and undertaken by senior Kaity Cookson, 17, junior Christine Malec and senior Vinita Phonseya. When they took on the project of designing original costumes for each of the 47 roles in the musical, the three sketched composite designs based on fashions observed in modern Punk bands, music magazines and fashion Web sites, they said.

"I loved drawing it out from what we saw during our research, and then transferring that into reality," Cookson said. "When we got the chance to lay out the actual costumes, it really came together and it started looking really good."

BUT IT WAS IN blending the medieval punk look with the intrinsic themes of "Pippin," such as the task of finding one’s true calling in life, that will make the production especially meaningful to audiences, said senior David Miranda, 17, who plays Pippin. It is those themes that will hit a particular chord for young adults moving into the world as adults, he added.

"For us, this is the time in your life where you have to decide what you’re going to do with your life, and I see a lot of parallels with that in the character and the play," Miranda said. "I think a lot of people will really relate to that."

Addressing that struggle is one of the main reasons why Bever said she chose to do "Pippin" for Herndon High School’s spring production.

"The students can relate to it, and even me being a young 20-something, I can relate to these themes as well," she said. "The ideas of growing up and just figuring out your place in life, that’s something that everyone goes through."

But despite a theme that might seem to be serious, the play is really able to make light of the situations that its characters find itself in and leave people laughing as well as thinking, Bever said.

"You don’t walk into it and get over the head with this heavy philosophical message," she said. "It’s got a lot of Monty Python-style humor … you laugh and have a real good time."