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BWW REVIEW: Main Stage Musical Theatre Returns To Sydney With The Magical Broadway Revival Production Of PIPPIN.

PIPPIN

BWW REVIEW: Main Stage Musical Theatre Returns To Sydney With The Magical Broadway Revival Production Of PIPPIN.

Thursday 3rd December 2020, 7pm, Lyric Theatre Sydney

Diane Paulus' (Director) multiple Tony Award winning 2013 Broadway Revival of Stephen Schwartz (Music and Lyrics) and Roger O. Hirson's (Book) PIPPIN entertains and entrances Sydney audiences thirsty for theatre with a bold blend of song, dance, and circus. The charm of the old-world 19th century big top circuses combines with an unusual take on the first son of one of the most famous Emperors of the Middle Ages to tell a dark and surreal story of hope and dreaming versus the realities of life.

BWW REVIEW: Main Stage Musical Theatre Returns To Sydney With The Magical Broadway Revival Production Of PIPPIN.
Australian Cast of Pippin (Photo: Brian Geach)

Grounded in real history, PIPPIN is a play within a play told by a travelling circus lead by "The Leading Player" (Gabrielle McClinton). The troupe tell the story of a young man, Pippin, derived from the real 'Pepin the Hunchback', the eldest son of Charlemagne, the 8th century King of the Franks and later Emperor of the Romans. While the story plays out as a tale re-enacted frequently by the 'Players', the central role of Pippin (Ainsley Melham) is being filled by a Player new to the troupe who is somewhat connected to the story but also bewildered by the predetermined plot and its contents, going through it as a real person feeling the emotions and conflicts while the others are performing their scripted roles. The new player and the character he is playing are both seeking to find their destiny with the expectation that it will be something grand rather than normal or commonplace and aspects of the real history of Charlemagne and Pepin are used but are frequently distorted as would often happen with the old-world travelling entertainers. Instead of realistic recreations of the events in the stories, they are expressed through the magic, acrobatics, song and dance of the circus delineated by marked 'chapters' as the moral of the story and the entertainment value of the circus act is more important than adherence to historical accuracy.

BWW REVIEW: Main Stage Musical Theatre Returns To Sydney With The Magical Broadway Revival Production Of PIPPIN.
Gabrielle McClinton and Acrobats (Photo: Brian Geach)

Scott Pask's scenic design drops a traditional circus big top into the Lyric Theatre, complete with bandstand balcony, Chinese poles, and aerial hoops, corde lisse, and silks. The tradition of medieval structures to infer the night sky is presented with the celestial artwork on the tarpaulin roof while the classic harlequin pattern adorns the tent walls. The impact of the stars are heightened by Kenneth Posner's lighting design which helps express the changing moods of the story and events like battlefield bloodshed as the stage is bathed in red. Dominique Lemineux's costume design is stunning as his lycra, leather and sparkles make a bold impression with a multitude of unique designs that blend the aesthetics of old-world circus costumes with contemporary clarity and understanding of design and construction, reflecting her experience designing for Cirque du Soleil productions. She also includes references to the show's origins in the 70's for the flowing, loose fitting lines of Charles's tunic and robes and Catherine's lilac dress with crochet top.

BWW REVIEW: Main Stage Musical Theatre Returns To Sydney With The Magical Broadway Revival Production Of PIPPIN.
Ainsley Melham as Pippin (Photo: Brian Geach)

It is an absolute treat to have Australian born Ainsley Melham back on a Sydney stage following his return from Broadway's ALADDIN. He has just gotten better with age and experience as he connects with the audience with a smile you can get lost in while flashing cheeky facial expressions of the young man's emotions that are infused with passion, playfulness and honesty that ensure everyone watching is firmly in Pippin's corner. His vocals are captivating, and his circus acrobatics are fabulous, fitting in easily with the trained acrobats of the ensemble.

BWW REVIEW: Main Stage Musical Theatre Returns To Sydney With The Magical Broadway Revival Production Of PIPPIN.
Matt Jenson, Gabrielle McClinton and Bayley Edmends (Photo: David Hooley)

As the Leading Player, Gabrielle McClinton, who reprises her Broadway and US National and International tour performance infuses a dangerous sultry control into the role of ringmaster pulling the puppet strings of the story. Her prior connection to the role ensures the premise that this is a repeated story that the troupe keep telling is reinforced with the ease of deep familiarity whilst still ensuring that the presentation feels fresh. The gender swap that occurred with the 2013 presentation, the role originated by Ben Vereen in the 1972, feels like it adds an extra layer of danger and power to the role as a feminine force of power that taps into a deliciously dark dominatrix feel.

BWW REVIEW: Main Stage Musical Theatre Returns To Sydney With The Magical Broadway Revival Production Of PIPPIN.
Andrew Sumner and Simon Burke as Charlemagne (Photo: David Hooley)

The role Charles/Charlemagne is a perfect fit for Simon Burke's physical comedy sensibilities and expressive facial expressions. He ensures that his vocals are clear to capture every word of the fast-paced War Is A Science while breaking the fourth wall with casual ease. Charlemagne's second wife Fastrada (modeled after the cruel real third wife of the King), is portrayed with elegance by Leslie Bell who captures the image of a Disney villainous queen with stunning style and her dance break in Spread A Little Sunshine allows her dancing talents to be utilized beautifully. As Fastrada's son Lewis (named after Louis, the eventual successor to Charlemagne's crown) Euan Doidge ensures that the leather clad fighter is clearly an image obsessed airhead mama's boy in contrast to his intelligent half-brother and his expression is beyond camp. As Catherine, Pippin's love interest, Lucy Maunder is delightful as the performer who cannot keep to her script. She ensures the shift from contrived character of the Leading Player's invention to genuine affection for Pippin is felt and her rendition of I Guess I'll Miss The Man definitely tugs at the heartstrings. The surprise performance comes from television talk show star Kerri-Anne Kennerley as Pippin's saucy grandmother Berthe as she embraces an aerial act with William Meager with a commitment that the gasps and applause indicate not many of the audience really expected.

BWW REVIEW: Main Stage Musical Theatre Returns To Sydney With The Magical Broadway Revival Production Of PIPPIN.
Euan Doidge as Lewis and Leslie Bell as Fastrada (Photo: David Hooley)

While the underlying story is a little twisted and bizarre, PIPPIN is a delightful piece of escapism theatre. The blend of Chet Walker's choreography, inspired by original director Bob Fosse, and Gypsy Snider's circus creations ensure there is lots to watch, even to the point that a second viewing to catch the dance and circus artistry you missed the first time could be a possibility. This is a delightful return to main stage musical theatre that will definitely satisfy the cravings of those missing live performance.

https://pippinthemusical.com.au/

BWW REVIEW: Main Stage Musical Theatre Returns To Sydney With The Magical Broadway Revival Production Of PIPPIN.
Danik Abishev, Lucy Maunder (as Catherine) and Ainsley Melham (as Pippin) (Photo: David Hooley)
BWW REVIEW: Main Stage Musical Theatre Returns To Sydney With The Magical Broadway Revival Production Of PIPPIN.
Kerri-Anne Kennerley as Berthe and Ainsley Melham as Pippin (Photo: David Hooley)
BWW REVIEW: Main Stage Musical Theatre Returns To Sydney With The Magical Broadway Revival Production Of PIPPIN.
Gabrielle McClinton and the Australian Cast of PIPPIN (Photo: David Hooley)
BWW REVIEW: Main Stage Musical Theatre Returns To Sydney With The Magical Broadway Revival Production Of PIPPIN.
Australian Cast of PIPPIN (Photo: Brian Geach)

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