Video: The Composers of Water for Elephants, PigPen Theatre Co., Perform 'The Road Don't Make You Young' | Playbill

Related Articles
Spring Preview 2024 Video: The Composers of Water for Elephants, PigPen Theatre Co., Perform 'The Road Don't Make You Young'

This band of theatre makers doesn’t know much about the circus, but they do know something about traveling on the road together.

It’s an understatement to say that the members of PigPen Theatre Company are really good friends. This seven-member collective first formed 17 years ago when they were in college at Carnegie Mellon, to compose music and make plays together. And they’ve all even lived together, first in college and then in New York City in a seven-bedroom apartment. To still love each other, and work well together, that’s truly a miracle. “It's very, very close to a family,” says Alex Falberg. “Whoopi Goldberg's advice for long-term relationships was: have two bathrooms. And so we have done that, we had seven bathrooms, so that's why I think we've stayed together for so long.”

The rest of the group laughs at the comment. And then, in true band-mate fashion, Matt Nuernberger chimes in immediately, “We all still live together. A seven-bedroom/bathroom apartment.”

Ben Ferguson jokes, “Our Zillow search history is just wild.”

It’s not that inaccurate. Aside from one member Arya Shahi (who lives in California), these bandmates actually still live within a 15-minute walk of each other. And they’re still going strong. PigPen is currently making their Broadway debut as the composers of Water for Elephants on Broadway. Exclusively for Playbill, these talented composer-actor-musicians are singing (and playing) one of their songs from the show, called “The Road Don’t Make You Young.” Watch five members of the team perform in the video above, filmed at Open Jar Studios as part of Playbill's Spring Preview 2024 series, sponsored by Princess Cruises.

Though they’re used to performing in their own shows, for Water for Elephants, PigPen is handing over the reins of this circus-themed musical to a team of actors and acrobats—including The Flash’s Grant Gustin and Shucked’s Isabelle McCalla. Which is fine for this bunch, because the actors in the show also have to do acrobatics and other circus-type tricks. “You don’t want us on a trapeze,” says Nuernberger.

Water for Elephants—based on the bestselling novel by Sara Gruen, with a book by Rick Elice—follows a young man named Jacob (played by Gustin) whose parents die tragically in a car accident. The trauma, in the midst of the Great Depression, leads Jacob to literally running away to join the circus. Those entertainers become his chosen family.

As musicians who, similar to circus performers, have had to travel from town to town for their work and form a make-shift family in the process, the material spoke deeply to the PigPen crew. They’ve been writing the music since 2015.

“There's this weird thing when you're in a band. We are a group of the same people who, for 10 years, traveled all around the country,” explains Shahi. “Things really start blurring between who is your family and who are your friends? And for us, who are your co-workers? Who’s responsible for you? Who are you responsible for? Whose health is important to you? Whose love is important to you? I've experienced that with all six of these guys.” At this point, the entire group is looking at him, some nodding in agreement. “And to be able to write a musical where we get to tell a little bit of how that feels. It really does make me kind of sentimental and emotional…I know that we were the right people to do it.”

PigPen Theatre Co. Heather Gershonowitz

“The Road Don’t Make You Young” is considered one of the musical’s “tentpole” songs (pun intended)—it anchors the show thematically and also, it takes place on Jacob’s first day at the circus. The song serves to introduce the different characters in the show, while also letting the audience know what kind of sound they should expect from the music.

“That song really establishes the sound of the circus as a company,” explains Dan Weschler. “Because it's composed primarily out of instruments that we imagine that these roustabouts and performers would have on hand—either to play in their own acts or because when you're off duty, you have a few minutes to sit and pluck a banjo or blow into a harmonica or whatever. This song begins as a very diegetic song in that sense. And then it becomes this introduction to all of the different individuals and units in the circus.”

Sure, seven composers—plus the director, the music team, choreographers, and design team—makes for a very crowded rehearsal room. But PigPen has learned over their many years of making shows together to keep personal ego out of it. Even during the interview, they all took turns speaking and rarely interrupted each other. “There's a lot of cooks in the kitchen,” admits Curtis Gillen. “But we're all just trying to tell the story. And it's really exciting to be part of that process where it doesn't really feel like oh, you're driving, I'm driving. It's just like how we work: We throw everything at the wall, and what's doing the job that needs to be done right now. And the best idea usually wins.”

Though in Water for Elephants, PigPen wanted to veer away from the typical bombastic Barnum & Bailey sound. Instead, they took inspiration from the popular music of the 1930s time period: bluegrass, folk, and jazz. Sure, there’s some circus-type fanfare in the diegetic portions, but the overall sound of the show is quieter, more introspective—to match the way it’s structured. The musical is a memory play, with an older Jacob looking back on his life. For PigPen, Water for Elephants is their next evolution into a larger arena. But it’s also a return to their original artistic impulses.

“When we were in college, a lot of us were cast in a production of The Grapes of Wrath,” explains Ryan Melia. “We played instruments, and we sang together…So we kind of steeped ourselves in that Depression-era music, from college on and we kind of got really into it. And that kind of influenced our own style of music.”

Don’t worry, PigPen fans, the crew are still making small, intimate shows with shadow puppets and all of them acting and playing instruments. But this Broadway debut is also particularly satisfying because they didn’t have to compromise who they were or their artistry to get there. Sure, they’ve been able to compose for voices with a different range than their own and learn the beauty of mid-song modulations. But Water for Elephants is an opportunity for them to introduce their distinctive sound to a whole new audience.

“That's one of the things that I hope Broadway continues to do and champion,” says Shahi. “If you want the future of an art form to survive, it needs to continue to grow and change. And it's very funny to hear us say that as PigPen because we're the folk guys. We are doing what's true to us. I don't think what we're doing is necessarily cutting edge. But I do think it's very unique and I do think it sounds different than what you hear in most Broadway spaces.”

Talk about exciting and new! Princess Cruises® celebrates new entertainment coming to Broadway and invites you to experience the best seats in the house at sea. Let’s take this waaay off-Broadway—and out to sea for live shows you’ll love. From original showstoppers (created by Broadway icons like Stephen Schwartz) to innovative theaters delivering immersive experiences, cruise entertainment with Princess is the Great White Way meets the ocean blue. All the world’s their stage, taking you to the most amazing destinations. So exit stage left – and embark from ports in New York, Boston, Florida, Los Angeles and more. Princess has the ultimate in cruising convenience. Bravo!

Photos: Pigpen Theatre Co. Performs "The Road Don’t Make You Young" from Water For Elephants

Today’s Most Popular News:

Blocking belongs
on the stage,
not on websites.

Our website is made possible by
displaying online advertisements to our visitors.

Please consider supporting us by
whitelisting with your ad blocker.
Thank you!