Covid 19 has shut down the theatre… all theatre… there’s none left, it’s all gone… done… finished… Or is it?
Out of nowhere, The Gordon Frost Organisation (in league with the Sydney Lyric Theatre) is staging Pippin! The Tony award winning, re-staged version by The American Repertory Theater and Les 7 Doigts de la Main is now auditioning, on stage, at the Sydney Lyric Theatre itself. The theatre has been dark since the Government’s restrictions were put in place, so it makes sense that they use it rather than hire another space. I’m hoping for the cast’s sake that they are also rehearsing on stage, because that would be cool!
This version of Pippin isn’t like any old musical. It’s a classic by content, but the re-staging has brought out the circus freak in it, and the performers need to meet this new standard. The first audition I attended is actually in Canterbury, at a small acrobatics gym. Here, a group of music theatre performers are showing off their acrobatics and circus skills. It is worryingly impressive, and publicist Ian Phipps quips that, in this brave new world, performers now need to be not just triple, but quadruple threats. From floor work, to silks, to trapeze, it’s a crash course in what the auditionees will need to be able to do, and although they are all obviously strong, afterwards there is much stretching and massaging of forearms.
Back at the Lyric theatre, the male ensemble hopefuls are going through choreography. Although not the original Bob Fosse steps, Chet Walker’s choreography has a real Fosse vibe. Mitchell Woodcock, the resident choreographer, states rightly that this style of dance is nearly 50 years old, and the specificity of action required means that a good deal of time is spent working with the auditionees to hone each move.
Theatre in the post-COVID world was always something that was going to be an unknown, but even though this is a false reality (it being the first show up, and backed by the Lyric Theatre itself), there is something wonderful about the process. Firstly, auditioning on a main stage is a rarity. With the fire curtain down, the inner space (sans everything) is cavernous, and it has a real industrial feel about it, but still with a definite stagey vibe. You really feel at home, and I envy the performers the experience. It is also, I think, now second nature for most of us to go through the COVID rigamarole, and so the one-way “you shall not pass… anyone in the corridor” route to the stage, get your temperature taken, QR code, NSW services sign in ‘WEAR A DAMN MASK!’ advice seems strangely familiar, as if it was always this way. Although, it may just be that we are all happy to be back and grateful that something theatrical is on the horizon.
Pippin begins its run at the Sydney Lyric Theatre on the 24th of November, and tickets are now on sale. It’s not touring (for now), so unfortunately only Sydney folk will get to see this spectacular, but hopefully this is a sign that things are getting back on track. It’s the only ticket in town, so if you’re hankering for a theatre fix… this is the show for you.