Saturday, December 5, 2020



The cast of "Pippin"  Image Brian Geach

Book by Roger O. Hirson – Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz

Presented by John Frost – Suzanne Jones – Barry and Fran Weissler – Howard and Janet Kagan.

Directed by Diane Paulus – Choreographed by Chet Walker

Musical Direction by Daniel Edmonds – Scenic design by Scott Pask

Costume design by Dominique Lemieux.

Sydney Lyric Theatre. Opening Night, 3rd December 2020

Reviewed by Bill Stephens


Gabrielle McClinton - Leading Player - "Pippin"

Image: Brian Geach

“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.


Gabrielle McClinton (Leading Player -C) and "Pippin" Ensemble

Image: David Hooley

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 “My Corner of the Sky”, dancing stylishly and impressing with his acrobatic prowess.


Andrew Sumner - Simon Burke (Charlemagne)

Image: David Hooley

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.


Euan Doidge (Lewis) - Leslie Bell (Frastrada)

Image: David Hooley

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”.


Kerri-Anne Kennerley (Berthe)- Ainsley Melham (Pippin)

Image: David Hooley

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.


Matt Jensen - Gabrielle McClinton - Bayley Edmonds - Fosse's Manson Trio

Image:David Hooley

Of course, Stephen Schwartz glorious score is no doubt another reason, and in this production it is superbly rendered by a tight band under the musical directorship of Daniel Edmonds.


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..


Daniel Abishev - Lucy Maunder (Catherine) - Ainsley Melham (Pippin)

Image: David Hooley

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.


 This review also appears in Australian Arts Review.