The coming of age story is nothing new. Long before Cher Horowitz in “Clueless” talked to a framed painting of her deceased mother who died during a routine liposuction — and before Lloyd Dobler in “Say Anything” held up a boombox blaring Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” — outside his love’s window, a young prince contemplated his place in the world.
Starting Saturday, the Theater Company of Lafayette will perform the multi-Tony Award-winning musical “Pippin,” a 1972 hit that follows a troupe of performers as they tell the story of a royal youth on the search for answers to life’s lingering questions.
“The message of ‘Pippin’ is timeless and universal,” said Heather Frost, director of Theater Company of Lafayette’s “Pippin.” “No one is exempt from the human experience, therefore we’re all on a journey of one kind or another. Some are willing and active participants, while others stumble through the process.”
While the cast for Lafayette’s production isn’t nearly as big as some that have graced other stages, the level of talent and showmanship remains high.
“The original from the early 1970s was staged as a miracle play with a vaudevillian feel,” Frost said. “The 2013 revival was set in a circus environment. For our production, we have blended elements of both versions while offering (Bob) Fosse-inspired dance numbers.”
Frost said she is looking forward to bringing this mash-up version to the intimate 75-seat venue of Mary Miller Theater — a former Congregational church, built in 1892 — that still bears the intricate and colorful stained-glass windows.
“Intentionally, the script is historically inaccurate,” Frost said. “We are highlighting its anachronistic features through costume, set and props. We offer a high level of humor and spectacle in our production.”
Songs by Stephen Schwartz, such as “Magic To Do,” “Corner of the Sky,” “Glory,” “Simple Joys,” “With You,” “No Time At All” and “Morning Glow,” make up the thrilling score.
“I absolutely identify with Pippin,” said Mike Martinkus, who plays the lead role. “At the top of the show, he promises not to waste his life on ordinary things. He wants to do something special. He later struggles with this idea that, eventually, he will be stuck repeating the same tasks every day. That is something that hits home for me, and one reason I went into acting in the first place.”
Earlier this year, Martinkus played Princeton in a Fort Collins production of “Avenue Q,” a character who, similarly to Pippin, is committed to finding his purpose.
“I don’t want to be stuck doing the same thing every day for the rest of my life,” Martinkus said, “and theater can make that possible through all the different shows, characters, time periods, etcetera, that are available.”
No stranger to full-blown musicals, Martinkus performed in two separate productions of Green Day’s angsty rock opera “American Idiot” — another production that, not unlike “Pippin,” deals with the complex quest of self-discovery.
“I grew up listening to Green Day since ‘Dookie’ came out in 1994,” Martinkus said. “They still are one of my favorite bands. In fact, the first time I did the show, most of the cast wasn’t even born, or were barely out of diapers when ‘Dookie’ came out. There is an amazing documentary titled ‘Broadway Idiot’ which tells the story of developing the musical ‘American Idiot’ and getting Green Day on board. After watching that, I knew I had to be a part of it, so when auditions were announced, I dove right into prepping.”
While “Pippin” may seem like a fun play within a play, it actual explores much deeper themes and offers up characters that are both layered and intriguing.
“The Leading Player is a challenging role,” said Rob Payo, who embodies this cunning character in the production. “He’s like a chameleon taking on whatever part is needed to get his way for both the characters and the audience — ringleader, guide, trickster, tyrant. His slippery nature is elevated by the different genres of song and dance that the Leading Player performs to tell the story. It’s really an actor’s dream to take on.”
The Leading Player is both charismatic and manipulative. At times it seems like he may be interested in helping Pippin, but at others the speculation that he is just a puppet master — guided by motives of his own — begins to surface.
“He’s quite playful at times and so am I by nature,” Payo said “But, he’s also a very dark and disturbing character. He reminds me of playing the Engineer in ‘Miss Saigon,’ manipulating and orchestrating things through his wit and charm even at the cost of others. It’s always fun to play the villain.”
Beneath the elaborate Fosse choreography and toe-tapping score is a message of staying true to personal values and not always seeking external factors to reach fulfillment.
“Everything that you do and say influences somebody else, whether you know it or not,” Frost said. “I hope that the story of ‘Pippin’ allows our audience to reflect on their own journey and their impact on others around them as they experience Pippin searching for his purpose.”
Previously, Frost has directed “Hair,” “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” and “The Great American Trailer Park Musical.”
She said she would love to eventually lend her directing skills to romantic Irish musical drama “Once,” as well as “Mama Mia” and the “Last Five Years.”
“I like musicals that are humorous, poignant and have strong character relationships,” Frost said. “I am drawn to stories about human connection.”
“Pippin” will run through Nov. 9.
“The cast in this show is absolutely stellar,” Martinkus said. “They have worked their butts off since day one. I may be the title character of the show, but believe me, the effort and dedication and sweat this cast has put forth is humbling and astounding, and I am so very grateful and honored to be allowed to be a part of that.”
If you go
What: Theater Company of Lafayette presents “Pippin”
When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, Friday through Nov. 9 (with two closing shows at 1 and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9 )
Where: Mary Miller Theater, 300 East Simpson St., Lafayette
Cost: $20-24 ($15 on ‘Industry Night’ Wednesday)
More info: tclstage.org