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What Makes Sydney's 'Pippin The Musical' Truly Unique, According to Its Circus Coordinator

From acrobats suspended by their own hair to a surprisingly touching storyline.
By Emma Joyce
November 25, 2020
By Emma Joyce
November 25, 2020

Circus advisor Preston Jamieson has a unique perspective on the musical Pippin, having performed in the first Broadway production and during the US national tour before working as a circus coordinator for the show's tour in Japan.

"I've been involved in every single production," says Jamieson. "This is the first time I've done a new Pippin with completely new acrobats — and I'm really excited about that. They're champions, and I know we're going to wow."

When Concrete Playground spoke with Jamieson, Pippin was only in its first week of rehearsals — and, unusually, the rehearsal studio for the show is precisely where you'll get to experience it: on stage at the Sydney Lyric Theatre. It'll be the first show to open at the Lyric in Sydney since the theatre temporarily closed due in March 2020.

Its cast includes locals like Ainsley Melham (Aladdin), who plays the titular role, and Kerri-Anne Kennerley, who plays his grandmother. The role of Leading Player will be performed by US actor Gabrielle McClinton (pictured, below), who knows the story inside out from performing in its Broadway and US tour productions.

US actor Gabrielle McClinton plays the Leading Player, photographed during rehearsal by Cassandra Hannagan

The 2013 Broadway revival of Pippin was lauded for having a woman of colour cast in the Leading Player role, and it's now part of the show's tradition. The same production also won four Tony Awards, including Best Musical Revival. But, though the Sydney version is based on the Broadway show, it doesn't mean you'll get to see a carbon-copy of the Broadway production when it opens on Tuesday, November 24.

"Every iteration is unique because of the skills the acrobats bring to the table," says Jamieson. "Sydney's will be slightly different than any other version we've ever done before."

Cassandra Hannagan

Though it's too early to confirm exactly what we can expect to see on stage, we do know there'll be hand-to-hand (partner) acrobatics, plus aerial and silk acrobatics, and a guy who can clamber up a ladder without any support. "If it's in the centre of the room, he can get to the top of the ladder," says Jamieson.

During his time with the show, Jamieson has learned knife-throwing, as well as how to set the acrobatics within the key 'spots' allocated to each song, which includes tunes like 'Corner of the Sky' and 'Magic to Do', all composed by Oscar- and Grammy Award-winning composer Stephen Schwartz (Wicked and Godspell).

"We're also trying to find a spot for some hair hanging, too. One of our acrobats has hair-hanging experience, and, as crazy as it seems, they suspend themselves by their own hair. It's a [Pippin] first."

There'll also be "a 67-year-old dangling by her feet, so there's going to be a lot of death-defying," he says.

Ainsley Melham as Pippin, Cassandra Hannagan

On the surface, Pippin's medieval storyline might seem a little dated for 2020. But Jamieson says the most surprising thing about the production — no matter what stage it's on — is "how relevant and touching" the show is.

Pippin is a prince struggling to find his identity and purpose in a life destined for the throne. "And, to have a show that has the wow-factor, but also the personal, intimate touch, is really hard to pull off.

"It's everything that's been missing from our lives right now," Jamieson adds. "And, this show, more than any other, has the relevance of finding your fulfilment; doing something because it fulfils you. And we need a lot more of that in the world today."


Images: Cassandra Hannagan

Published on November 25, 2020 by Emma Joyce

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