Life's a three-ring circus for the revival of four-time Tony Award winner Pippin. Now on a national tour, Pippin tells the story of a young prince on a death-defying journey and the choices he makes in life.
Mark Burrell wears many hats on the tour. He's an assistant choreographer, dance captain and understudy for the role of Charles. Burrell made his Broadway debut in the first national tour of Fosse and was also seen in other productions of Cats, Disney's Beauty and the Beast and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
Windy City called him up right before his Chicago arrival.
Windy City Times: Hi, Mark. You are originally from Michigan?
Mark Burrell: Yes, I am from Lake Orion, it is a small town just north of Detroit. I have been in New York 20 years now.
WCT: So you are a New York City lifer?
MB: Well, actually I am looking to move out of there now. It is just gotten way too expensive to live there anymore. I have more connections to Chicago. One of my dearest friends lives there. I had a connection to the Joffrey Ballet there for a little while.
WCT: Did you move to New York to pursue theater?
MB: I went to pursue dance. I had only done community theater before that. My dream was to go to Juilliard and be a part of that world, whatever that meant. I got in and wound up being one of 24 dancers accepted. I did my first two and a half years there then left to do my first national tour of Fosse. I then booked shows and traveled for over three years. At age 25, there was still a little gray cloud above me and I wanted to finish my degree. I contacted the school and they let me back in to finish my degree. I had a better perspective on life at that juncture. That made my experience much more fruitful.
WCT: I read that you worked with The Rockettes for a long time.
MB: For 10 years. It was amazing. I started off as a dancer in the ensemble and ended up becoming the assistant choreographer. I left them to do Pippin when Chet Walker contacted me and asked me if I wanted to be a part of this project. He told me to meet with Diane Paulus, the director, who is now my friend for life. It has been a whirlwind!
WCT: Talk about this updated [version of] Pippin.
MB: I think the heart and soul is still totally in this musical. In 1972, it really tested people's limits on the Vietnam War. Diane has really broadened the spectrum with adding these circus elements, which Bob Fosse was such a fan of. If you go back to a lot of Bob's research for Pippin it was all Commedia dell'arte work that he did. The costumes and nuances that he did was all based on the oddities of the circus world. I thought it was brilliant that Diane picked up on those little subtle things and brought it into her re-creation of this.
This is a cross-breed unlike any other show. I have been in this business for 22 years and I have never been a part of something that is so intricate, detailed and risk-taking, but comes off effortlessly. It is such a spectacle before your eyes that you don't even realize until you walk out of the theater exactly what went into it. I think that is the magic that they created.
WCT: It is set inside of a circus?
MB: Yes, inside of a circus tent. It is a little microscope on this traveling circus troupe of performers that could pick up and leave going to the next city. That is what we do on the national tour. We are living it!
In the circus world, you rely on one another for the heart and soul in your life. I have been a part of many national tours and there is always that one person that will suck you dry on a tour but with this particular group of human beings there is not an ounce of that. This troupe travels as a true family. Audiences really feel that love for one another and the support when they see this production.
WCT: So as a touring show, this might even work better than the Broadway version?
MB: I think the setting and the essence of it are absolutely what [it] ... is now embodying.
WCT: You raised money for AIDS at Downtown Dancing at The Joyce in New York?
MB: It was with high school students that I did that. Dancers Responding to AIDS has an outreach program that they open to many dancing studios in the metropolitan area and across the country. I created a work called The Princess Tangos, which was a Disney parody of the Cell Block Tango from the musical Chicago. We raised a lot of money and it is still a legacy that I believe so highly of.
We have someone on this tour that deals with all of the Broadway Cares events. As a gay man, this cause has always been apparent in our lives and will be in our lives. I have seen many of my friends pass from the unfortunate epidemic. It is amazing to do something so simple as put my feet on the floor and raise such huge funds for an organization that needs the support.
WCT: You should have an event while in Chicago.
MB: We are having an event at Sidetrack on Aug. 3. Cast members will be singing songs and little vignettes, not only from Pippin but also the life of theater. It will be a lot of fun!
Pick up your Pippin tickets at www.BroadwayInChicago.com as it runs July 29-Aug. 9 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St.
Swing over to Sidetrack, 3349 N. Halsted St., on Monday, Aug. 3, 7-9 p.m., where a $25 donation to Broadway Cares includes 2 drinks. For more info, visit sidetrackchicago.com .