Director of North Coast Rep’s ‘Pippin’ says story will grab audiences

The cast of North Coast Repertory Theatre's production of "Pippin."
(Courtesy of Aaron Rumley)

The 1972 musical is about a traveling theater troupe presenting the story of the Middle Ages king Charlemagne and his son, prince Pippin


Directing North Coast Repertory Theatre’s production of “Pippin” is Nick DeGruccio’s own full-circle story: The fanciful musical was one of the first stage shows he ever saw as a child, and he saw it on Broadway.

“Pippin” was written by Stephen Schwartz (music and lyrics) and Roger O. Hirson (book). It’s a coming-of-age tale told in words, music and dance by a traveling performance troupe. Pippin, portrayed at North Coast Rep by Brendan Dallaire, is the son of the Middle Ages king Charlemagne (Jason Maddy). The beguiling Leading Player of the troupe is played by Robert Zelaya.

The 1972 musical has always been special to DeGruccio.

“It has a timeless theme of self-discovery and desire to find our place in the world,” he said. “Not only that, but Stephen Schwartz wrote some amazing music that we all love. It has a genuine charm and appeal. You can’t help but be drawn to the story. It makes you want to be on Pippin’s side.”

“Pippin’s” best loved song, arguably, is “Corner of the Sky” which expresses the character’s longing to find his meaning in life. The tune encapsulates DeGruccio’s sense of the musical, which was directed on Broadway by Bob Fosse and won five Tony Awards.

“What I want people to take away from the show is that the answers are always within,” he said.

“Corner of the Sky,” incidentally, hit the pop charts in ’72 thanks to a cover version by the Jackson 5.

It’s “Pippin’s” universal story that DeGruccio believes accounts for its enduring popularity. More of the musicals being produced today need “connection,” he said.

“Yes, we see spectacle, we see amazing computer-generated, wonderful design, but ultimately I feel vacant and empty if I’m not connected to the story. Musicals need to get back to a story,” he said.

The storytelling at this “Pippin” will be enhanced by the choreography of Roxane Carrasco and a live band featuring pianist/musical director Ron Councell, guitarist/cellist Nikko Nobleza, Mark Margolies on reeds and drummer Tom Versen. Councell was music director for the theater’s “The Remarkable Mr. Holmes” last summer, among other productions at North Coast Rep.

DeGruccio, who was nominated for a San Diego Theatre Critics Circle award for directing the rock musical “Next to Normal” at San Diego Musical Theatre in 2013, has high praise for his 10-person “Pippin” cast, calling them “uber-talented. Not only is the dancing going to be awesome, but the voices are also terrific.”

A onetime actor himself, DeGruccio also teaches the craft at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Los Angeles.

“I teach risk taking. I teach fearlessness,” he said of his work with students. “I tell them nice/safe/fine never gets cast. Ultimately what gets cast is their essence. There’s always a better singer, a better dancer, a better-looking person, but the one thing they have over everybody else is their particular take on the world.”

That could well be the lesson that Pippin himself takes to heart.


When: Opened Saturday, July 22, and runs through Aug. 20. Showtimes, 7 p.m. Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays

Where: North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach

Tickets: $57-$68

Phone: (858) 481-1055


Coddon is a freelance writer.