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"Pippin" comes to San Diego, SDGLN interviews star Erik Altemus

San Francisco native, Erik Altemus used to dream of becoming a performer while listening to the lyrical stories of popular Disney films. When he was a child, his bedroom was a place of fantastical worlds filled with music, dance and the choruses of song-filled dreams.

In the cooler evenings of his Northern California neighborhood, Altemus could be heard in the bedroom singing to the music that touched his soul. He just couldn’t contain himself; the joy of performing was not something he could just turn off.

This love of song would eventually land him the role of a lifetime in one of Broadways most beloved musicals.

Broadway San Diego is happy to announce their presentation of “Pippin” which begins Tuesday, August 25, and runs through August, 30. It is one of the most revered and spectacular productions ever to hit the stage.

This twenty-first century update to the classic tale is a high-flying adventure filled with music, death-defying stunts and unforgettable performances.
Altemus’ character, Lewis, Pippin’s stepbrother, is a role he originated during the show’s initial Broadway run.

SDGLN catches up with the busy actor before he takes to San Diego Civic Theatre stage for Pippin’s six day tour, and he couldn’t feel more at home.

He remembers those times when he was just a kid watching Disney films and filling the house with music. One day, he had an idea; he could take his love of song and offer seating on his bedroom floor, “I realized I wanted to make a living performing when I started charging family members a dollar to come into my room and listen to me sing ‘Part of your World.’"

The stage was set, Altemus was destined to be a performer, and as a gay man he figured out how to use that to his advantage. He pushed onward not letting anything, especially his sexuality get in the way. He told me that having been in all kinds of shows growing up, he met many different kinds of people and that helped him to realize being different was just fine.

“Once I was old enough to understand how my sexuality could affect the kind of roles I got,” he told me, “I made a conscious effort to separate myself from the character I was playing. For a long time I would be concerned about coming off straight on stage, but so far it hasn't been a problem.”

The liberal atmosphere of the bay area was helpful in Altemus’ younger journey, but at some point when he was older, he had to pack up and leave the comforts of San Francisco and move south, to conservative Orange County.

The performer was very happy with his high school years in Santa Ana, but before that he says the kids weren’t as friendly.

“The years leading up to high school where rough,” he said. “I experienced a lot of bullying in middle school and it sucked! It taught me to have a thick skin and to realize that bigotry is blind, especially at that age. Everyone just wanted to seem cool, to be accepted by their friends and so I tried my best to ignore it. Plus, I was already working as an actor and I knew deep down I was cooler than them!”

Now as a successful Broadway performer, Altemus had to somehow make a personal life for himself. The rigorous schedule of rehearsal and constant travel leaves little time for romance. But the talented young actor says it is possible to find love and keep it, even through the demands of a Broadway show. I asked him if it’s possible to balance the two.

He laughs as he gives me his response, “Yes! The schedule is intense but it's nice to have someone to come home to and share all the crazy, little things that happened in the show that night with.”

As far as his character Lewis in Pippin, Altemus says he really enjoys playing him because it allows for some silliness and comedy, but the character can also be serious.

He says playing Lewis has taught him how to bring multi-faceted emotions to such a complex character, giving him the freedom to be silly, but also anchoring him in the truths of reality.

“The biggest lesson has been balancing those two elements and not just playing a caricature.”

For those of you who have sat in your bedroom in hopes of one day stepping out on stage and fulfilling a dream, Altemus says the dedication it takes can be a struggle but if you are dedicated to the work, you might make it to where he is some day.

“You have to work really hard: training, training, training!” he says. “Even once you achieve your goals, you can never stop working on making yourself a better performer. You have to really love the business to sustain that kind of commitment.”

Altemus is currently on the road with Pippin, and he is very focused on that right now. He is happy to travel with the show and wants audiences to feel that same inner bliss he felt as a child charging a dollar for a floor seat to hear him sing Disney songs.

I asked him what his plans are for the future.

“I'm not sure! I plan on staying with the show till I am ready to go back to New York and see what happens! For now I am really enjoying life on the road!”

You can see Erik Altemus play Lewis in Pippin starting August 25 – 30 at the San Diego Civic Theatre.

For more information, including show times and tickets click HERE.

"Pippin" photos are used courtesy of TERRY SHAPIRO

Timothy Rawles Community Editor of SDGLN. He can be reached at editor@sdgln.com, @reporter66 on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.