GREENFIELD – The shiny black cane levitated from Katelyn Robinson’s open left hand and hung, suspended, in the air. A brief pause, and then, it floated deftly through space and landed in her outstretched right palm. It’s a magic trick Katelyn has been practicing for weeks, one of many meant to delight the crowd when Greenfield-Central High School presents its spring musical, “Pippin,” this weekend.
The Tony award-winning musical stars seniors Connor Schrank as King Charlemagne and junior Tanner Hord in the title role as son Pippin. Both are characters from history, but the rest of the narrative is pure fiction. Idealistic Pippin longs to break away from the warlike society of the middle ages and his country-conquering father to lead an extraordinary life. “Pippin,” set in a three-ring circus, is guided through the story by the Leading Player (Katelyn Robinson) who encourages Pippin in his quest for life beyond the battlefield.
As the Leading Player, Katelyn has big shoes to fill. The role serves as both the narrator for the show and the ringmaster for the ongoing stage circus; it was made famous by actor and dancer Ben Vereen in the 1973 Broadway production, and later actress Patina Miller in the 2013 revival. Both won Tony awards for their performances.
In addition to the challenge of making her props appear to float, Katelyn will belt out three numbers during the show: “Glory,” “Simple Joys” and the show opener, “Magic to Do.”
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And she’ll have the support of spectacle after spectacle. Greenfield-Central drama director Ted Jacobs has pulled out all the stops for the opening number, calling in a professional magician and acrobats from Cirque Indy — Indiana’s only circus school — to train his young actors.
At a recent rehearsal, magician Taylor Martin made the rounds among members of the cast, observing technique and the level of mastery for each trick. Martin, a local magician with 60 years’ experience, performs a monthly magic show at Theatre on the Square in Indianapolis. He admits he’s also become somewhat of a go-to guy when it comes to local productions of “Pippin” — Greenfield-Central’s being the fourth production where he’s been called to consult.
Martin has spent the weeks of rehearsal teaching rudimentary magic skills: basic vanishes with handkerchiefs and tricks with rubber bands, paper clips and dollar bills. For an audience, even small magic can yield great results, he said.
“There’s not much we can do in this short of time,” Martin said, “but we can get real good at it.”
Connor Schrank snapped a red handkerchief into the air, and a silver cane appeared. He’d been practicing for several weeks and appeared to have mastered the trick.
Another cast member, junior Mary Magno, tried her hand using flash paper, creating a brief flame. At first, Magno was uncertain.
“I didn’t know if I was going to burn my hand,” she admitted, but that doesn’t bother her anymore. The flash is bright but brief.
“It goes out before it hits the floor,” she said.
Magicians are traditionally very secretive about their magic tricks, but that doesn’t worry Martin.
“We don’t tell — but we do teach,” he said.
Magic tricks won’t be the only spectacle on stage during “Pippin.” A glance at the ceiling above the circus-style set reveals an aerial hoop and two long red silk curtains. The cast includes 10 to 12 acrobats who will swing from hoop, spin on the silks, juggle, walk on stilts and do tumbling routines during the performance.
Senior Cory Charbeneau has been hard at work mastering all manner of nontraditional movement, from handstands to stilts. He got the knack of the stilts in three to four days, but the handstands were more challenging, he said. After three weeks of practice, he’d learned how to keep his balance, he said.
Jacobs and his 70-member tech crew have worked together to construct the circus set, which they plan to present to the audience with the help of a special curtain that will drop from the ceiling.
“I want people to see the pageantry, the colors and the festivity all at once,” he said.
“Pippin” plays May 5 and 6 at 6:30 p.m. and May 7 at 2 p.m. at Greenfield-Central High School, 810 N. Broadway. Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for seniors and children under 12 available at gcdrama.org.