NEW YORK — Fans of the musical "Pippin" will get a special treat starting this weekend in Denver: They'll get to see two Pippins for the price of one.
Matthew James Thomas, who originated the role in the Tony Award-winning revival on Broadway last year, will team up with John Rubinstein, who was the first Broadway Pippin in 1972 and now plays Pippin's father.
"There's a whole new dimension here. It's like being in some crazy dream. I'm just the luckiest kid on earth," Thomas said by phone from Denver. Rubinstein agreed in a separate call: "To me, the idea of the old Pippin and the new Pippin being on the same stage — I love that."
Thomas, who left the Broadway cast in March, stepped in at the last minute when actor Kyle Selig took a medical leave of absence for vocal rest. Thomas was on vacation in Malta visiting his parents' house when he was suddenly asked to fly to Denver less than a week ago and save the day.
"I put my feet in the pool and pulled them out quickly," said Thomas, who took at 25-hour flight back to the U.S. and immediately met his new company. "I can't believe how lucky and privileged I am to live this life," he said. "I mean, I like vacations. But whatever. Vacations are vacations. Sitting around a pool is about the most boring thing I can come up with."
The show is on a tour that will take it to over 20 states over the next year, including stops in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Seattle, Chicago, Baltimore and Dallas. The tour starts previews Saturday at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Thomas will stay through the Colorado leg, which ends Sept. 20, and make stops in San Francisco from Sept. 23 to Oct. 19 and Los Angeles starting Oct. 21. When Selig will resume as Pippin is still unclear.
A whimsical coming-of-age story about the son of the first Holy Roman Emperor, "Pippin" boasts pop-rock music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Roger O. Hirson. The revival and tour is led by director Diane Paulus, who added jaw-dropping circus tricks.
"Pippin" opened in 1972 under the direction of Bob Fosse and ran for five years, winning five Tonys. It became a favorite with schools, summer stocks and community theaters across the country.
Rubinstein, 67, who was hand-picked by Fosse to play the role of Pippin — his Broadway debut — is modest about his skills. "Obviously, they wanted a kid who wasn't terribly good looking, who couldn't dance and who couldn't sing very well," he said.
That's quite different from these days, he said. Today's Pippins are muscular, good-looking singers who can both dance and twirl on a trapeze. Asked if he might be able to offer advice to Thomas, Rubinstein just laughed.
"I have no pointers to give to him. He's wonderful," said Rubinstein, who won a Tony for "Children of a Lesser God." ''First of all, they sing me under the table. There's just no competition whatsoever," he said. "What pointers could I possibly give?"
Rubinstein said the 1970s-era "Pippin," which arrived against a background of the Vietnam War and Watergate, has a different feel from the current show, which is lighter in tone. "It floats. There's more light in it. It's more colorful. It's more sparkly. Ours was darker and more sinister and the sarcasm was deeper. This 'Pippin' feels right for this time."
There is one benefit to having two Pippins onstage: It means that if Thomas somehow can't go on, there's always the original ready to go, right? Rubinstein takes the bait: "Of course," he deadpans. "I'll play Pippin. I'll just shave off the beard."
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits