Last night, I was lucky enough to be invited to the Sydney Theatre for the Opening Night of Pippin, the first production for Kookaburra, the newly formed national musical theatre company. As with all opening nights, there was a buzz about the event, but I guess it was doubly so last night, since this was also the “birth” of a new national theatre company.
Although I was aware of the “hit song”, “Corner Of The Sky”, I had only a cursory knowledge of the musical garnered from the interweb and from my friend, Colin who came with me who directed a production many years ago. Pippin, you see, was the son of Charlemagne, (or Karl der Grosse, or Carl The Great, depending on which part of Europe you lived), the first Holy Roman Emperor. A rather dramatic story, Pippin killed his father due to his concern about the raping and pillaging occuring under Charlemagne, but then also failed to live up to his own expectations as a ruler, and thus endured a crisis of confidence about his role in life and what was important to him. “Hamlet with show tunes” is how I described it later in the night.
Part of the attraction was also seeing Matthew Robinson in the title role. I’ve seen Matthew perform live a few times now, including a significant role in “Eurobeat – The Musical”, in cabaret with Lucy Durack at “Bar Me”, and in “Mamma Mia” (although I don’t exactly recall which character he played). I think he’s a real talent and thought he played the lead role with warmth, intelligence and humour. And what a beautiful voice he has, with a tremendous range. Having seen him perform previously, I also know that he has immense song-writing talent.
Also fabulous was Trisha Noble as Pippin’s grandmother. After many years living in the United States, Trisha has returned to the stage, and this was the second production I’ve seen her perform in. My first introduction to her was through the 1970s drama, “Executive Suite”, but I also know she was once “rock singer” Patsy Ann Noble, and my dad used to tell the story of her working many years ago as a nurse at the Lismore Base Hospital before her performance career.
I was very impressed with the production, as it demonstrated high levels of professionalism and creativity. There were only brief moments that need a little tightening up, such as towards the end of the first half. At the after show party, though, we learned the interval was actually “forced” into the show, as when it first premiered it was run without interval. Modern audiences, it seems, need a break!
As far as opening nights go, there probably weren’t all that many famous faces. Mostly it seemed like most of those attending were fans of musical theatre, as were we. Perhaps the “biggest name” was Jeanette Howard, the Prime Minister’s wife, who was there (along with her heavily pregnant daughter or daughter-in-law). Her good friend Janet McDonald was also there and they waved to each other on taking their seats. And from Labor, Bob & Helena Carr were sitting a few seats ahead of us.
Speaking of politics, there’s a strong current political theme in Pippin as it deals with the futility of war, with a particularly effective scene about wartime casualties.