We’ve got Magic to do sings the Leading Player, Gabrielle McClinton as she takes the stage alone. What follows is pure theatrical magic with a brilliantly conceived and dazzlingly staged opening number which sets the tone for the rest of the evening.
Set in a colourful circus tent, with brightly coloured costumes, eye-popping illusions, and stunning acrobatic feats, it is often difficult to know where to look, as the ensemble cast perform complex choreography, lightning fast costume changes, and sing up a storm to portray the story of the Pippin, the son of Charlemagne, and his search for fulfilment.
As the Leading Player, Gabrielle McClinton commanded the stage effortlessly, singing, dancing and performing acrobatics with a brilliance that ensured that she was never likely to be lost in the crowd.
Handsome, Ainslie Melham is perfectly cast as Pippin, immediately winning over the audience with his superb rendition of Corner of the Sky, dancing stylishly and impressing with his acrobatic prowess.Almost unrecognisable, Simon Burke delighted with his Trumpian take as Pippin’s father, Charlemagne, tossing off the tongue-twisting War is a Science with panache. Euan Doidge practically chews up the scenery in a funny, scene-stealing performance as Lewis, Pippin’s oily brother.
Although Leslie Bell, playing Pippin’s sexy, ambitious stepmother, Frastrada, almost stopped the show with her sizzling dancing in Spread a Little Sunshine, it was Kerri-Anne Kennerley who took out that honour, putting paid to any criticism of her casting as Pippins grandmother, Berthe, by drawing cheers from the first-night audience with her jaw-dropping turn in No Time at All.
Chet Walker with his imaginative reworking of the iconic Fosse choreography, arguably one reason for the continued success of this show, pays respectful homage to the original, even retaining Fosse’s famous Manson Trio, takes full advantage of the opportunities offered by the circus setting to add additional pizazz which is brilliantly danced by the ensemble.
However, it is the problematic second act that has always been this show’s Achilles’ heel, when Pippin, having been shocked by the horrors of war, rejected the temptations of the flesh, and murdered his father, realises that he is unable to find solace in the simple life offered by Catherine, a single mother, captivatingly portrayed and sweetly sung by Lucy Maunder, and her son, Theo, played on opening night by Ryan Yeates.
Director Dianne Paulus brilliantly overcomes this problem by stripping away all the magic towards the end of the show, with a stunning theatrical coup de grace which holds the audience transfixed to the very end.
Sydney Lyric Theatre, 55 Pirrama Road, Pyrmont (Sydney)
Season continues to 17 January 2021
For more information, visit: www.pippinthemusical.com.au for details.
Image: (main) The Australian Company of PIPPIN – photo by Brian Geach / Kerri-Anne Kennerley and Ainslie Melham – photo by David Hooley / Manson Trio – Matt Jenson, Gabrielle McClinton and Bayley Edmends – photo by David Hooley / Danik Abishev, Lucy Maunder and Ainsley Melham – photo by David Hooley
Review: Bill Stephens OAM