Egyptian’s YouTheatre presents ‘Pippi Longstocking’
In 1945, a Swedish mother named Astrid Lindgren published her first children’s book, "Pippi Longstocking."
Pippi was the world’s strongest girl who lives with her pets — a horse named Horse and a monkey named Mr. Nilsson— and her father was a seafaring man who wrestled with pirates.
Lindgren wrote the story for her daughter. She then went on to write a series of "Pippi Longstocking" books and they have touched the lives of children around the world through various translations, TV shows and film.
A few years ago, Jamie Wilcox, director of the Egyptian Theatre’s YouTheatre program, read "Pippi Longstocking" to her daughter.
"We were living in London and we found a version that was illustrated by Lauren Child, who is the illustrator for ‘Charlie and Lola,’ a British cartoon," Wilcox said during an interview with The Park Record. "My daughter loved it so much and I loved seeing her reactions to what I was reading."
The stories reminded Wilcox about her youth and when she saw one of the "Pippi Longstocking" movies.
"It was fun to rediscover that world, which happens a lot when you’re a parent," she said.
That was one of the reasons why Wilcox wanted YouTheatre to perform "Pippi Longstocking" for this year’s production at the Egyptian Theatre this weekend.
Usually, YouTheatre does a junior version of Broadway musicals, and in the past it has presented "Seussical the Musical" and "Guys and Dolls Junior."
This season, Wilcox wanted to do something that wasn’t so music heavy.
"Many of the kids up here are very talented," she said. "They take voice lessons and all that kind of stuff. So I wanted to find a production that focused more on story than on singing."
That doesn’t mean "Pippi Longstocking" is not a musical, Wilcox said.
"This is more like a play with music, because there is singing and dancing," she explained. "But it’s not like a typical musical. There is a lot more underscoring and a lot less song numbers."
This was something Wilcox liked.
"It is a challenge for the kids to just focus on text and telling a story," she said. "I think they were all up for the challenge and it’s working out great."
This production of "Pippi Longstocking" focuses on Lindgren’s first book wherein Pippi, played by Olivia Henry, moves into her home, Villa Villekulla, Wilcox said.
"She meets her two friends, Tommy, portrayed by Wyatt Pike, and Annika, played by Katie Lobrot, and also runs into Mrs. Prysselius, acted by Brooke Mitchell, who wants to put Pippi in a children’s home," said Wilcox.
The play will also focus on Pippi’s feisty attributes.
"She is physically strong, and her strength, in all its variations, will be shown," Wilcox said.
For example, there is a scene at a carnival where Pippi takes on a strong man and there are other scenes that involve Klang and Larsson, who are the cops, and Thunder and Bloom, the burglars.
"Pippi ends up scaring both sets of those men with her strength," Wilcox said with a laugh. "They don’t want to mess with her."
On top of being strong, Pippi is also an independent soul.
"I had done some research about Astrid Lindgren, who wrote the books, and found out when the first book came out, she got a lot of backlash because Pippi was a girl who didn’t listen to her elders, follow directions and didn’t do things that ordinary girls did back then," Wilcox said. "Astrid pushed the boundaries of what girls could and couldn’t do."
That’s what makes Pippi a wonderful and beautiful character.
"She is a tomboy," Wilcox said. "She was raised by her papa and the sailors on his ship. But she’s also very much a girl to me, because she loves hearts and flowers.
"I think she’s a wonderful example for kids," Wilcox said "Yes. It is true that she doesn’t do what she’s supposed to do all the time. But she lives by her own code. Family and friends are important in that code as well as following her heart and not succumbing to the word ‘no.’"
There are 23 children in the cast and two who are puppeteers.
One of those puppeteers is Elaine Sheehan who helped build Horse, who is one of Pippi’s pets, Wilcox said. "The other puppeteer, Storey Peacock, helped put together Mr. Nilsson, Pippi’s monkey," Wilcox said. "Both of these kids perform the puppets they created."
To help them further their craft, Wilcox asked the Kipper Brothers Puppetworks to do some puppeteer workshops with the cast.
"They also helped create three shadow puppet vignettes that will be included in the performance," Wilcox said. "We filmed these segments with lights and special effects, and they will be projected on the Egyptian screen during the scene changes."
In addition to the 25 kids who will appear on stage, there are more who are part of the tech crew backstage.
"We had a record number of kids to audition for the show, and I told them that not all of them would be cast as characters," Wilcox said. "I started a tech-crew class with our YouTheatre workshops in the fall, and a lot of the kids who auditioned who didn’t get roles were selected to work backstage."
The kids worked with a professional theater instructor from the University of Utah to build props, run spotlights and pull scenery.
"The kids also had a two-hour session with the Egyptian Theatre’s technical director Peter Mayhew and audio designer Hyrum Summerhayes," Wilcox said. "So they learned what goes into light and sound design and things like that. I really think theater education is more than just being on stage."
The Egyptian Theatre’s YouTheatre program will present "Pippi Longstocking" on Friday, Dec. 13, and Saturday, Dec. 14, at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St. Evening curtain is 7 p.m. and there will be a 2 p.m. matinee on Dec. 14. The musical is based on Astrid Lindgren’s children’s books. Tickets are $14 for adults and $9 for children. For more information and tickets visit http://www.parkcityshows.com.
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