Pippin vs. Matilda

By Christopher Heide

Two magic-themed musicals debuted this week within Seattle’s rich performing arts culture. Pippin, which is on a limited one-week run at the Paramount and Matilda, which just began a three week engagement at the 5th Avenue Theatre, are both visually stimulating productions. However, the execution of the two shows marked a noticeable disparity. Whereas Pippin was a tightly executed performance, Matilda was marred by a lagging story and technical difficulties.

This rendition of Pippin is almost a reboot of the original version from the 1970’s. While much of the entire book remains the same and much of the choreography pays homage to original choreographer Bob Fosse, this show is definitely Pippin 2.0. Infused throughout the entire show is a circus motif, which readily allows for many of the players to engage in genuinely impressive gymnastics and acrobatic tricks. The essence of the show is still intact, telling the story of a young prince who is thrust down a path of temptations as he searches for his true purpose in life.

Leading the talented ensemble of dancer-acrobats, is Gabrielle McClinton, as the show’s Leading Player. McClinton is a tour-de-force, possessing both soaring vocal abilities and sensual body movements. She is a captivating presence, who guides the progress of the story with ease, sass and charm. Impressively, every player in this production masterfully own’s their role with acute technical prowess. The show moves along at a brisk pace, never really seeming to lag for more than a moment or two.

An equally ambitious production, Matilda falls short in its execution. It a bold production with vibrant, technologically-advanced sets and fresh, crisp choreography. The show feels very Broadway, while retaining a feeling of contemporary accessibility. Unfortunately, this is a situation where the show was not greater than the sum of its parts. On at least one occasion, the show was paused due to technical difficulties. 

Truth be told, the children were one of the weakest elements of the entire show. Boasting irritatingly fake British accents, the ensemble of children seemed to scream rather than sing the majority of their songs. The unintelligible accents made a majority of the dialogue difficult to hear, which in turn made it more difficult to get lost in Matilda’s magical world.

That said, the show was definitely not terrible. Its a good, entertaining, yet uneven show. A great deal of the book is filled with memorable, catchy songs. A great deal of the ensemble cast is devilishly talented and lead by a brilliant performance by Bryce Ryness as Ms. Trunchbull. Ryness ate the hell out of every scene he was in, capturing the loudest applause from the audience by the end of the evening. The cast is clearly talented and with a little more polish, Matilda could become a truly timeless musical.

In this bombastic duel between these two magical performances, Pippin most definitely comes out on top.

Pippin (A)
Matilda (B-)