Lucie Arnaz joins 'Pippin'

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COURTESY JOAN MARCUS
The amped-up touring production of “Pippin” – a 1970s-era musical revived in 2013 with acrobatics and stunts – opens at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theatre.
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Lucie Arnaz is on such a high these days.

For starters, the longtime stage performer and daughter of showbiz legends Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz is beaming over her role as Pippin’s grandmother Berthe in the national touring production of “Pippin.”

The Tony Award-winning show, which first hit Broadway more than 40 years ago and was revived in 2013, opens this week at the Golden Gate Theatre.

“I saw ‘Pippin’ on Broadway in the ’70s and memorized the whole album,” Arnaz says with a hearty laugh. “The book is smart and funny, and it’s about something that really matters. And now, with this whole new focus — this incredible challenge with the acrobats and the trapeze I am doing, I find myself going, ‘Wow, how does this really happen every night?’”

Arnaz, 63, is just one of many castmembers fueling the revival’s cirque-like makeover.

The modern-day “Pippin” boasts acrobatics by Les 7 Doigts de la Main (“Trances”). And in the hands of Tony-winning director Diane Paulus (“Hair,” “The Gershwin's Porgy & Bess”), the production’s razzle-dazzle element — already potent with all that Bob Fosse-inspired choreography and music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (“Godspell,” “Wicked”) — has definitely been amped up.

The original story, however, remains relatively intact.

Pippin, a prince and the son of King Charlemagne, searches for meaning in life, and his attempts to find it in war, status, love and other arenas, always fall flat. Plenty of dance and a bevy of now-revered songs —“Corner of the Sky,” “Magic To Do,” “Love Song”—pepper the mix, while a circus Emcee guides the befuddled Pippin along his way.

Ben Vereen first turned heads as the role of Emcee back in the 1970s opposite John Rubinstein, who returns this time around playing Charlemagne. Arnaz appears in The City’s run for two weeks — Andrea Martin steps in after — before joining the Broadway production.

At one point in the show, Pippin finds himself visiting his beloved grandmother (Arnaz) for guidance and his spirited relative unleashes the show-stopping number, “No Time At All.” “The heart of the number is saying, ‘Seize the day! The sun is shining, the air is warm, you woke up,’” Arnaz says. “It’s telling us to use this beautiful stuff that has been given to us because in minutes, you may not be able to.

“It’s about right now,” she adds. “And living right now well. And I am trying to live my life like that and I am fortunate that the song I get to sing is a belief system I carry.”

IF YOU GO

Pippin

Where: Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Oct. 19

Tickets: $40 to $210

Contact: (415) 551-2050, www.shnsf.com

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