The Wheelock Family Theatre celebrates families, children and children’s literature like no other theater in town. Audiences bursting with tots (who watch spellbound with nary a peep) come to Wheelock to see their favorite books come alive: Books like THE CAT IN THE HAT or THE SECRET GARDEN or ANNE OF GREEN GABLES…and now PIPPI LONGSTOCKING (playing through May 12th).
Pippi’s Swedish author, Astrid Lindgrin, made up stories to amuse her daughter while she was recovering from pneumonia. Back in 1946, a book about a little girl who doesn’t obey grownups was an anomaly. Little girls wore white gloves and hats in the ‘40s. They didn’t sail the South Seas and elude the police. Lindgrin was honored with the Hans Christian Andersen award and lived to be ninety-four, working tirelessly her entire life for legislation to benefit children and protect animals from abuse.
Animals figure prominently in PIPPI LONGSTOCKING. Pippi lives in a house with animal companions, not humans. An expressive monkey and an attentive horse (in the kitchen!) help Pippi when she needs it. For the most part Pippi can handle everything by herself. She can best a weight lifter, overpower two burglars and outmaneuver the police.
Director Wendy Lement’s PIPPI has some lovely surprises. Instead of ASL interpreters standing at the side of the stage, Lement makes them part of the show, interacting with Pippi, moving among the characters and dancing as they sign. Adrianna Kathryn Neefus and Desiree Weems are delightful, sashaying and boogying along with the chorus. The hip hop music, too, composed by Peter Stewart, becomes integral to every scene and sets the mood for the whole production. The horse (Elbert Joseph) gyrates to the beat, the police (John Davin and Mark Linehan) can’t help responding to the rhythms---even the criminals (Ricardo Engermann and Margaret Ann Brady) get down.
Sirena Abalian’s non-stop Pippi even paints graffiti on the walls---when she isn’t eluding Donna Sorbello’s frazzled welfare worker or disrupting Kortney Adams’ classroom. The performances are charming and the children in the audience when I attended adored Pippi’s outrageous behavior. They didn’t seem to notice that the pacing was awfully slow (on opening weekend). They didn’t care either that the set changes took a bit too long (hauling out the main frame of the house and turning the huge side pieces). Now that’s only an adult opinion and as we’ve learned in PIPPI, adult opinions merit a whoopee cushion! Enough said.