After eight long months of lockdown in Sydney, theatregoers were keen to see the professionals treading the boards again.
'Pippin' was the first cab off the rank and it did not disappoint. This dazzling musical is chock-full of colour and pure entertainment. It also managed to take on a prescient meaning during these strange COVID times.
The show’s music and lyrics are by the incomparable Stephen Schwartz ('Godspell', 'Wicked'). This is a fictional re-telling of a historic event and based on a book by Roger O. Hirson. The eponymous Prince must decide whether he wants to follow in his father’s footsteps or carve out his own life of adventure.
Ainsley Melham ('Aladdin') stars as Pippin, a young man thrust into a surreal wold. He journeys through different episodes trying things like war, politics, sex and farming in his search for fulfilment. Pippin is accompanied by a group of players led by the steely Gabrielle McClinton. The show's producers received some backlash over the casting choice of McClinton. She is a Broadway actress, so it's no surprise that she gave a commanding performance as the ringmaster, but this also deprived a local artist from a role.
'Pippin' debuted on Broadway in 1972. The first Australian production was led by John Farnham in 1974 and the show has since been revived by Diane Paulus ('Hair'). The story still resonates with contemporary audiences because humans are still insatiable creatures. There are points where the characters break down the fourth wall, which feels very inclusive. There was also a hilarious one-liner about Pippin’s dad, King Charles (Simon Burke 'Les Misérables') being the most powerful man in the world and the least educated. Pippin also has an equally dim-witted brother in Lewis (Euan Doidge).
This musical has some show-stopping tunes. Opening track, 'Magic To Do' is a bombastic invitation into a world of intrigue. Pippin’s solo, 'Corner Of The Sky' is wistful and Kerri-Anne Kennerley plays up the feisty grandma in 'No Time At All'. She also dazzled us with some great – albeit, a little shaky – moves on the trapeze. This is no mean feat for a lady of 67 years.
Image © David Hooley
The acrobats soared as high as the vocals and the optimistic tunes. These limber and brave artists moved with such elegance and grace on swings, stilts, silk, their hands – you name it. Add in some illusions including quick changes and circus artistry like fire juggling, stilt-walking and hula hoops, and it was hard not to be dazzled by the sheer pomp and spectacle. And if that wasn’t enough to whet your appetites, a song like 'Manson Trio' features the original choreography by Bob Fosse ('Chicago'). Talk about giving a whole new meaning to the words 'triple threat'!
Step-mother, Fastrada, was played by the radiant, Leslie Bell, who seemed to float as she shimmied across the stage. But it's Pippin’s ultimate love, Catherine (Lucy Maunder) who tugs at your emotional heartstrings during her solo ballad. You can also see how Pippin’s stepson (played on opening night by Ryan Yeates ('Charlie & The Chocolate Factory') will carry on the torch in that hopeful finale.
This musical certainly has a lot of depth. It blends lightness and joy with sombre realism and those pesky rainclouds we all face. This still speaks to audiences who have been craving adventure during such a quiet 2020. 'Pippin' reminds us all that glitz and glamour maybe seductive, but that we all need to maintain our resolve, hope and sense of wonder. 'Pippin' is a grand celebration which embraced us like a warm hug, illuminated us with its splendour and had us singing along to those rousing tunes.
Magic was had. 'Pippin' is currently playing at Sydney Lyric Theatre.