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Curtains up for two shows that began here years ago

Pippin

1972: A musical with choreography by Bob Fosse and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz premieres at the newly open Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. It heads on to fame.

2014: A new production, fresh from Broadway with Tony and Drama Desk awards, opens at the National Theatre. John Rubenstein, the original Pippin, now plays Charlemagne.

This winner of the 2013 Tony for Best Revival has shifted the show’s setting from medieval times to the world of the circus. That change means props like yoga balls, hula hoops and feather fans plus a Montreal-based acrobatic troupe that spends an hour warming up before each performance.

Taking to a trapeze, after four weeks of training, is statuesque stage veteran Lucie Arnaz. “No nets,” exclaims this daughter of show-biz royalty. At 63, she plays a grandmother in the play within the play and takes the spotlight to sing “No Time At All,” words of wisdom (“Don’t think too much!”) dispensed to the conflicted prince Pippin.

In a recent conversation, Arnaz says she’s learned to embrace that notion in her own life. “Blow off the worry of the world and just be here. That helps you find what’s important in life.” She feels that “Pippin,” in this reincarnation no longer infused by Vietnam War-era angst, is a grand show (its cast above) for children. “It’s the perfect musical, if you never see another.”

Her own grown children lead artistic lives, and her husband Laurence Luckinbill is a seasoned actor who’ll join her here, since the show goes on even Christmas Day. Arnaz has a warm memory of the holidays in Washington. Invited to sing at the White House tree lighting, she came with five-year-old daughter Kate. To give the child a good view, George and Barbara Bush invited her into their plexiglass box.

At National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, December 16-January 4

Fiddler
Hadary and company in “Fiddler on the Roof” (©Margot Schulman)

Fiddler on the Roof

1964: A Broadway-bound musical, starring Zero Mostel, opens at Washington’s historic National Theatre. In the balcony with his parents sits a 14-year-old aspiring actor named Jonathan, a Bethesda, Maryland, schoolboy who that same year founds a student-run company, Wildwood Summer Theater that continues today.

2014: Jonathan Hadary, an acclaimed performer with decades of recognition for his work on Broadway, assumes the role of Tevye in the classic musical’s revival at D.C.’s Arena Stage.

When Hadary chatted with Where about this current gig, he called it “a homecoming.” Although he’s returned for productions here before—at Kennedy Center, Shakespeare Theatre and Ford’s Theatre, his connection to Arena Stage remains special. “As a kid, I worked here as a volunteer-usher. My parents drove me downtown.”

Watching those performances in-the-round no doubt explains why Hadary now relishes the configuration of the albeit expanded Fichandler Stage, i.e., being surrounded by the audience. He points out that the very elements of “Fiddler”—the words, songs and even the Jerome Robbins choreography—seem based upon the circle.

Hadary believes that Teyve’s opening song sets up all that follows—“Tradition,” the impact of its losses, the diviseness of  its legacies. The tune recurs, transformed and reassigned at play’s end, as another circling back. By all indications, this production promises to reclaim the familiar songs and narrative for adults.

The notion of a fiddler on a roof? Hadary says it evokes that enigmatic figure in paintings by Marc Chagall, yet it also refers to every man’s life as a tenuous balancing act, a refusal to leave one’s faith, one’s tradition or even one’s existential dread behind.

At Arena Stage, 1101 6th St. SW, through January 4