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Beloved Children’s Book Comes to Life on Stage

‘Pippi Longstocking’ to be presented in Fairfax.

Posing in character are (standing, from left) Lizzie Bayer, Sierra Hoffman, Owen Grannis, Sharon Petersen, Bella Lanoue-Chapman, Maggie Slivka and Judy Zakreski, and (kneeling) Lourdes Navarro.

Posing in character are (standing, from left) Lizzie Bayer, Sierra Hoffman, Owen Grannis, Sharon Petersen, Bella Lanoue-Chapman, Maggie Slivka and Judy Zakreski, and (kneeling) Lourdes Navarro. Photo by Bonnie Hobbs.

A children’s classic comes to life when The City of Fairfax Theatre Company and Truro Anglican Church present “Pippi Longstocking: The Family Musical.”

“It’s a fun, upbeat story with pirates, clowns, stage combat, monkeys, a horse and an expanded circus element,” said Director Matt Lanoue-Chapman. “All these features should be a recipe for a really entertaining show.”

There’ll be clowns in the lobby, plus people doing card tricks, making balloon animals and face painting. That way, said Lanoue-Chapman, “People will feel some of the circus energy as they’re coming in the door.”

The story’s about a little girl who’s on her own after her mom dies and her pirate dad is shipwrecked. So she turns her community upside down, teaches people to have fun and brings a new spirit to the town.

THE CAST AND CREW of 60 have been rehearsing since May and are a mix of children and adults from throughout the area. “We’re excited and we’ve been working hard,” said Lanoue-Chapman, “It’s slapstick in some places, so kids had to work on their comedic timing. They’ve also learned all the choreography and stage combat, so a lot’s being asked of this group, but they’re having a good time with it.”

“We have a really dynamic set showing Pippi’s house, a circus tent, pirate ship, tea party and classrooms, with lots of scene changes,” he continued. “The audience will be as impressed with the great set as they are with the singing and acting.”

Pippi’s a strong female heroine, so the costumes will be vibrant and colorful, with different colors representing particular groups within her world.

Choreographer Erik Sampson created the show’s 14 dance numbers, and all but three are ensembles. “It’s very energetic, and we’re pushing the envelope with the level of dance we’re introducing to the kids,” he said. “[Having so many dances] presents a neat opportunity for the ensemble kids to be more involved in the show than they’d be otherwise.”

Added Lanoue-Chapman: “It’s a really fun, visual experience, with creative lighting and unusual movements.”

“I made some of the choreography more abstract than Broadway,” said Sampson. “And I’m bringing the dancers into the audience, and changing how they move, to make the audience feel like they’re actually part of the story and make it come alive for them.”

“In every scene, there’s something funny or surprising happening,” said Lanoue-Chapman. “And the numbers are zany and built around Pippi’s wild energy and idea of having fun all the time.”

“This show touches all the emotions,” said Sampson. “It’s about building family and friendships and asks if the norm is necessarily the best.”

Portraying Pippi on alternate weekends are Bull Run Elementary fifth-grader Maggie Slivka and Lanoue-Chapman’s daughter, Bella, 11. “Pippi’s outspoken, unique and flat-out weird,” said Maggie. “There’s no one controlling her so she doesn’t jump off roofs. Her stories run away with her and she has adventures people don’t usually have. It’s the biggest role I’ve ever gotten and I’m happy to play it. I really like theater, and playing the lead is a dream-come-true.”

Maggie’s favorite song is “Strongest Girl in the World,” which she sings, because “the choreography’s awesome and it describes Pippi’s freakishly strong powers.” With so much talent onstage, she said, the show will amaze the audience with what such young actors can do.

Bella said Pippi doesn’t allow herself to be sad. “Instead, she tells stories to make herself and other people happy,” said Bella. “I like that she’s funny and a sneaky prankster, if someone’s after her. In the song, ‘Call Me Pippi,’ she tells everyone who she is, the things she likes and does, and about her family.”

THE AUDIENCE will like the show’s humor, said Bella. “It’s a children’s musical, but adults will love it, too,” she said. “There are jokes for the adults, and the kids will laugh at how funny Pippi is and how she outsmarts all the grownups.”

Fairfax High sophomore Eva Petersen plays bumbling police officer Constable Clang. “She’s pretty inept,” said Petersen. “She thinks she’s the face of the law, but she’s easily outsmarted by Pippi. Petersen likes the song, “Pippi’s Lullabye,” because “it’s beautiful and both Pippi’s sing it well.”

Growing up, this was one of Petersen’s favorite books because “Pippi’s so independent and irreverent – and that appeals to kids because adults are always telling them what to do. This show’s a nice, friendly way to introduce them to the theater, and the costumes are phenomenal – they look fantastic.”

Classmate Jenny Abrahamson plays thief Thunder Karlson. “She’s not very smart, doesn’t think for herself and gets bossed around by thief Bloom,” said Abrahamson. “It’s a new experience for me, changing the book’s boy character and his mannerisms into a girl’s.”

Her favorite song’s “Thunder and Bloom” because “there’s lots of movement and we interact with the audience. And I’ve had fun working on it with Kevin McNerney [Bloom]. The audience will enjoy the show because it’s a light, airy play with silly humor.”

Sierra Hoffman, another classmate, portrays several characters, including a kleptomaniac tea guest. “Throughout the tea party, I grab things and stuff them in my purse,” she said. “And at the end, Pippi smears cream cake over all the guests’ faces.” Overall, said Hoffman, “This show has something for everyone – action, a circus, proper schoolchildren, crazy Pippi, cops and robbers, and pirates.”

The musical will be held at Lanier Middle School, 3801 Jermantown Road in Fairfax. Show times are Friday, July 18, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, July 19, at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Friday, July 25, at 7:30 p.m.; and Saturday, July 26, at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10, adults; $5, children 12 and under, at the door or www.fairfaxcitytheatre.org.