Tony Award Nominee Patina Miller Puts the Moves on Fosse and Pippin
By Adam Hetrick
Actress Patina Miller received her second Tony Award nomination this season for transforming the role of Pippin's Leading Player – originated by Tony winner Ben Vereen – into a tall, lean, belting seductress who slinks onto stage and into our imaginations.
Miller, who is back on Broadway after headlining the musical adaptation of Sister Act in 2011, can now officially add "dancer" to her triple-threat crown – performing the challenging Bob Fosse choreography (restaged in 2012 by Tony nominee Chet Walker) for audiences each night at the Music Box Theatre.
Playbill.com spoke with Miller the day following Pippin's Tony nomination news:
You're in fantastic physical shape for this role. What did you do to prepare?
Patina Miller: Well, I work out a lot. I go to Mark Fisher Fitness like everyone else! Everyone knows who they are now. They're really amazing there, and they know the right things to do. I like being in shape. This is a marathon we run every night, and runners prepare. I see myself as an athlete in my approach as an actor-singer, as well as with the dancing.
I have to admit that when I think of your previous credits, "dancer" isn't the first thing that comes to mind. It was incredible to see your work in Pippin.
PM: You want to be the best at what you do. This is the first time I get to really dance in a show. It's something that I've always wanted to do, and the fact that I get to this iconic choreography, it's just amazing. It's also hard work. I told Chet Walker, who's our choreographer, "I want to do this, and I want to do this well. I want to work hard." I tell you what, I worked on it cause I wanted to nail it. And, I'm still working on it - I'm still learning. I'm always trying to take the sweat off it, because you want to go hard on it, but Fosse is about making it easy and it just lives in your body. That's the thing I love about it.
The Broadway musical theatre community is known for triple-threat performers. Do you identify as a dancer - you certainly seem very much at home with the choreography.
PM: I've always been a pretty good mover. I studied dance in school, but I never thought that was me. Early on in my career I was at dance calls where people were kicking their faces, and you get maybe five minutes to learn choreography and it's like, "Oh my... I'm not cut out for this. Let me sing. Let me act a little bit, maybe I'll do a two-step, but this is too much!"
But along the years, having done shows like Sister Act, I've worked that muscle and getting into my own body and knowing what it does. And once you get these Fosse moves, you can just live in it. That's been really surprising and rewarding.
Diane Paulus' vision for Pippin is very ambitious, a great deal is asked of the cast. On top of it, you're re-interpreting a role that is synonymous with Ben Vereen. Did you ever have a moment where you thought, "What am I doing?"
PM: Of course. I think we all did. There was a moment where I said, "What did I get myself into? Are you gonna pull this off Patina?" But I love to be challenged as an actor and an artist, and doing the things that make you scared and afraid is what excites me. Because it's what I need to do as an artist. I felt like I needed to do something like this. I'm doing a role that was made famous by a man, and for women, that's a big thing. I have girls come up to me after the show, and say, "I wanna be the Leading Player! The fact that I can do this is so amazing!" That is amazing to me.
(Adam Hetrick is the editor in chief of Playbill.com. His work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com, as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter @PlaybillAdamH).
Check out the cast of Pippin recording "Magic to Do" from the new Broadway cast album:
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