Gabrielle McClinton takes the stage in “Pippin” at Shea’s

By Janelle Harb

Features Editor

As students of Canisius College, we are very fortunate to be living in a city where the best of Broadway is brought to our own backyard at Shea’s Performing Arts Center.  This season has already seen legendary shows such as Annie and Newsies come to Buffalo.  Next in the lineup of Broadway greats is the Tony-award winning musical Pippin.  After performing this role on Broadway, Gabrielle McClinton stars as the Leading Player in the first national tour of this show.  The Griffin was fortunate to have had an opportunity to discuss touring, Broadway, and more with McClinton in between performances.

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Left to Right: Borris York, Gabrielle McClinton, Matthew deGuzman. Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Janelle Harb: I know you’ve portrayed this role on Broadway, so how is this different from portraying it on tour?

Gabrielle McClinton: Well, it’s the same show with the same concept, and everything. But now that I’ve taken over the role, I definitely get the chance to bring myself to it, and now doing it every night, I get to discover new things and learn more about the role.  I really get to make it my own, which is really fulfilling.

JH: And so do you enjoy the touring aspect where you get to go to a new place every week, or do you prefer staying in one place, like Broadway?

GM: I think I actually prefer staying stable just because you have your whole life there, your apartment there, and you can do your day-to-day things.  You know, having that is really nice, especially with being an artist everything is always changing, so it can be a bit draining at times.  And you’re putting yourself out there all the time, you feel very vulnerable a lot of the time.  So having that stability just kind of gives you that extra sense of comfort, you could say.  But the great thing about touring is that you do get to see the country.  We’ve been lucky to go international, like getting to see Tokyo, then we’re going to see Amsterdam, that’s so great, to see every part of the world.  So that’s a really great aspect of it.  

JH: Do you have a favorite place that you’ve been?

GM: It’s so funny actually! I love this little town in Arkansas called Fayetteville.  It was just the cutest town and it was a couple streets with these cute little shops.  It was just very home-y.  I think doing such an intense show like Pippin and being away from your family and friends, it’s nice to be in a town that that feels very home-y, very comfortable.  I think that was actually my favorite so far!

JH: That’s so different that such a small town is your favorite versus some big metropolis like Tokyo.

GM: I know! Tokyo was great but it was very busy, and our schedule is really hard, and also bring some place so far away from home, that really takes a toll on you a little bit.

JH: So have you ever been to Buffalo?

GM: No I haven’t! I’ve only been to Upstate New York once! I hear people always talking about Upstate New York and how it’s so beautiful I’ve been to Utica and Auburn… so, actually I lied, I’ve been there twice. But Auburn was beautiful and I loved it, so I’ve never been to Buffalo! I heard it’s very cold.  What’s the temperature there?

JH: It’s probably about 20 and below!

GM: 20 and below, oh geez!

JH: So you mentioned before that being on tour you have more freedom with your character, so how do you create your own spin on the Leading Player?

GM: I think being on Broadway there’s like a set way to do things that was already set in stone, that previous Leading Players had already done.  As the understudy it wasn’t my job to go out there and do my own thing, it was my job to fill in for her [the lead actress], and kind of do what she did.  But now we’ve been able to change different things, vocally and dance-wise, so that makes me feel comfortable.  It makes me feel that I can bring out my true Leading Player with my interpretation, without trying to be somebody else.  

JH: And so what’s your favorite part about doing this show?

GM: I think that I get to really stretch myself in all areas.  I get to do everything.  I get to do dance-work, the acting is really high intensity, I also get to do acrobatics, and I get to do it all at the same time.  So I think I get to really stretch myself as a performer like with doing all of those things at the same time to test what I’m truly capable of.  

JH: Do you have a certain scene in the show that you love performing?

GM: I really like the finally because you get to see another side of the Leading Player and it really exposes her.  I think it’s such a great switch for her as a character, and as an actor, it’s really fulfilling to do that every night.

JH: Do you enjoy working with a big ensemble cast?

GM: It actually doesn’t feel that big surprisingly, because we have about six dancers and maybe six acrobats.  So it’s not the biggest ensemble, but it’s so great, especially having people from all different parts of the world.  I’ve been able to learn so much about other countries, and how they work and their different mentalities, it’s been very interesting. It’s always exciting, it keeps you on your toys, you’re always learning something new with having all of these diverse people.  

JH: And so being with this sizable cast, do you all get very close?

GM: Yes, it’s definitely become a family and we do hang out around the towns, and it’s such a great group of people, and we all get along.  Being on tour, you get to know people a lot better.  

JH: And people that you would’ve never gotten the opportunity to meet before either.

GM: It’s great to have these special people come into your life, they’re definitely lifelong friends.  

JH: So do you have a favorite role that you’ve played?

GM: This one is definitely up there, it’s definitely the hardest one I’ve played.  I’ve done American Idiot, actually I just did Peter and the Starcatcher and that was really fun to play.

JH: Do you have a dream role that you’d like to play someday?

GM: I’d love to be in that new show Hamilton, obviously everybody would! I’d also like to do Rent someday too! I feel like all the shows I do come up so unexpectedly, and then I get that show and I’m like ‘oh my god, yes, this is what I want to be doing!’

JH: And so how were you first inspired to pursue all of this?

GM: I just started at a really young age. I started dancing first, I took dance classes, and I just got the bug.  I started doing musical theatre, summer camps, and that’s when I really felt like this was what my career was, I just felt like I belonged there… and I just loved performing.  When I was younger I’d always just put on skits for my family, and I was always dancing and singing around the house.  I just kind of always needed attention. [laughs]

JH: How was this tour different from your first tour, American Idiot?

GM: Definitely very different shows.  My responsibilities are way bigger now because with American Idiot I could go out and get a drink, but with Pippin, it’s so demanding and so exhausting that I really have to take good care of myself so I don’t get to go out as much, but doing the role is so much more worth it.  That was the biggest thing, it’s just so demanding and so I have to take care of myself in different ways.  But also in my first tour, I didn’t see as much because it was my first time doing it and I didn’t know how to do a show 8 times a week.  So my first tour, I was really figuring things out, but with this tour I know…how to balance it more, and I don’t get as stressed out as easily.  I just have that wisdom in me now.  

JH: Do have any tips for taking care of yourself while on tour?

GM: Oh yes, I meditate daily so I can stay centered and calm.  I do a lot of yoga so I can take care of my body and my mind.  I find staying calm and relaxed is definitely the key to performing happily and stress-free.  So that’s kind of my special thing. I have a very important spiritual practice that I do everyday and that really keeps me going.  

JH: Do you have any plans for after this tour?

GM: Not yet! I think I’d love to travel for a little bit because we’re coming to Europe. And so since we finish in Europe and I might want to stay over there and travel for a little bit.  I may go on some auditions, we’ll see.  I’m kind of up for anything!

Pippin will be performing at Shea’s from January 26th to the 31st before continuing its run in Boston, MA.  The shows that will be rounding off Shea’s 2015-2016 season are Beautiful: The Carole King Musical from March 15th to 20th and Dirty Dancing from May 3rd to 8th.

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