New theater class in Lenox to perform ‘Pippin'


Photo Gallery: Pippin

LENOX -- For the 26 students performing the classic Broadway musical "Pippin," this week, the story of a young medieval prince seeking purpose in his life resonates strongly.

The production, which runs Thursday through Sunday, is the result of an enhanced drama program offered this year at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School

Last year, a group of students asked LMMHS Principal Michael Knybel and district Superintendent Edward W. Costa II to consider adding a theater course at the school. The administrators were persuaded, and developed an elective theater class that's now among the arts courses offered to fulfill credit requirements for graduation.

Veteran theater professional Ralph Petillo applied to teach the school's first formal drama course, under the supervision of the school's band teacher, Jonathan Cade.

"He took a chance, and I think it's going to pay off," said Petillo of Costa's decision to hire him.

Before moving to Lenox 30 years ago, he had written, directed and performed for Walt Disney World and Disney Productions in Florida. Locally, he's known for his vivid portrayals with Berkshire Theatre Group of Fezziwig in "A Christmas Carol," Captain Hook in "Peter Pan" and Fagin in "OIiver!"

Petillo, who performed the "Pippin" role of Leading Player earlier in his career, said the students have been up to the challenge of performing the original 1973 Broadway version as conceived and directed by Bob Fosse, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.

"I felt ‘Pippin' was the right choice for the students who were here at the time," said Petillo before a rehearsal at the high school's Duffin auditorium on Tuesday. "I wanted to get them to a level of modern, thought-provoking musical theater."

The students -- 9th through 12th graders, and one sixth-grader -- have been rehearsing since mid-January, 12 to 18 hours a week. Leading a three-member band is music director Luke Olivieri.

"The students on the stage and behind the scenes give so much of their time to this production," said Knybel. "The most respected part of their effort is the fact that at the end of the day, they challenge themselves at the same time they face college acceptance deadlines and the overall academic rigor Lenox provides each day."

For Taylor Tranfaglia of Lenox, president of the senior class, her key role as the Leading Player is a major step on her path toward a stage theater.

Having performed in Shakespeare & Company's Fall Festival at the school, Tranfaglia recalled "falling in love with ‘Pippin' after reading the finale." She said she connected with the voice parts after immersing herself in watching YouTube videos of the musical.

The show delivers "such a cool message," she said. "Pippin is being taken on this journey through life. It's about appreciating what you have, what life gives you, and I love that."

Connor McNinch, the sophomore who portrays Pippin and hopes to pursue a career in the theater, observed that "Pippin is always just trying to find out where he actually fits in, and that's pretty much what high school is -- trying to figure out what you want to do and where you want to go."

Portraying Charlemagne in the show, Ben Epstein of Lenox, an 11th grader, noted that he was "born into drama" -- his parents are the noted actors Jonathan Epstein and Ariel Bock.

"The message of the show is to be happy more with what you have than what you want," he said. "You might want something but that doesn't mean you should chase it because it will make you happier than you already are."

Cast member Jake Jourdain, a senior from Becket, said performing in the show has built his self-confidence. "I realized that you can assume different roles -- you don't always have to be yourself. It's opened my eyes and made me come out of my shell," he said.

"The point of ‘Pippin' is that you can find happiness in who you are," said Petillo.

"[Lenox] is one of the few schools I've seen where you can grow academically with the arts. That, to me, is the future," the school theater director said. He cited the proximity of Shakespeare & Company, whose costume shop manager, Mary Readinger, designed the costumes for the student performers.

"We continue to plan to grow the drama program here at Lenox," said Principal Michael Knybel. "So far, we are level-funded for next year, so nothing will be removedbut I hope we can expand the drama offerings."

To contact Clarence Fanto: or (413) 637-2551.

On Twitter: @BE_cfanto

If you go

What: "Pippin," a Lenox Memorial Middle and High School production of the Broadway musical, directed by Ralph Petillo.

Where: Duffin Theater at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School, 197 East St., Lenox.

When: Thursday, 7:15 p.m. (Dress rehearsal, $5); Friday and Saturday, 7:15 p.m. ($7.50); Sunday matinee at 1:15 ($7.50) with optional buffet-style brunch at the school cafeteria (a fundraiser for the senior class) from 11 to 1 (additional $4.50).

Information: (413) 637-5560.


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