Kaleidoscope Theatre’s Pippi Longstocking is a family affair

ON STAGE

What: Pippi Longstocking: The Family Musical
Where: McPherson Playhouse
When: Friday Dec. 28 (7:30 p.m.), Saturday Dec. 29 (2 p.m.), and Sunday Dec. 30 (2 p.m.)
Tickets: $25-$45 through rmts.bc.ca, by phone at 250-386-6121 or in person at the Royal McPherson box office
Information: kaleidoscope.bc.ca

The difficulty of programming musical theatre during the holiday season, according to Kaleidoscope Theatre artistic director Roderick Glanville, is finding the right beat — which is to say, something that celebrates family, without the saccharin.

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Nutcrackers need not apply.

“Whenever we’re doing a community event, we have to be cognizant of who we are selling to,” Glanville said. “We want families to have an opportunity to go to a creative event during Christmas and New Year’s. We want to give them a fun, positive-message musical.”

Glanville is directing Pippi Longstocking: The Family Musical, which checks all the necessary boxes in that regard. Based on books by the Swedish author, Astrid Lindgren, the musical about the freckle-faced, pigtailed redhead with fantastical powers counts as the company’s biggest production to date. More than 50 participants, including a live band, will bring the iconic character to the stage for three performances this weekend, making it the first time in Kaleidoscope’s 44-year history anything Longstocking-related has been produced, according to Glanville.

Kaleidoscope Theatre, which programs theatre for young people and families, produced Pinnochio this year, but with a First Nations theme. Pippi Longstocking: The Family Musical is different in many ways, but similar in that it updates a longstanding favourite for 2018 audiences. Tich Wilson plays the title character in Kaleidoscope Theatre’s production, and is joined in the cast by notables Michael Forbes, Dan Costain, Steve Ivings and Lena Palermo.

“We like to revisit the classics and give them a bit of a modern twist if we can,” Glanville said. “In this one, we’re blending the classical imagery of Pippi’s world —with the colour and craziness — and we’re blending it with a contemporary colour design, making it cross-generational. We’re taking a storybook and placing it in the context of now, and showing there is no difference between a child then and Pippi now.”

The first three Longstocking chapter books were published between 1945 and 1948, and several animated and feature films followed. The character has endured several iterations in the decades since through scores of picture books in 76 languages, which made Pippi Longstocking: The Family Musical an easy choice. Kaleidoscope Theatre has often staged a traditional British Pantomime around Christmas — the company did well with Peter Pan: The Panto last year — but Glanville wanted something with a different feel this time out.

“I wanted to keep our programming more consistent with our season messaging. Youth empowerment was more suitable for this time slot. It’s a hilarious script. It’s very, very funny.”

The music and lyrics performed in the production (co-written in 1998 by two Danish musicians, Sebastian and Staffan Götesta) offers a different experience altogether, and struck Glanville and music director Yanik Giroux as “a little odd” during the early stages. But once rehearsals started, it was evident the music fit perfectly, Glanville said.

“All of sudden, we were going: ‘Wow, this little, odd music that we saw on the page really works quite powerfully when you put all the voices to it.’ It wound up being just exactly as we wanted.

“You just can’t buy the CD and play your music and have people sing to it. You’ve got to create that music, and then have to bring in live musicians and rehearse that music with them. It’s more effort-heavy, but the rewards in the end are stronger. Listening to people play live music always makes a big difference. It adds that much more to it.”

Though large by Kaleidoscope standards, Glanville feels Pippi Longstocking: The Family Musical boasts the right-sized cast (it numbered upward of 50 people at last count, including a number of mother-daughter acting combinations, he said). For a presentation that features several circus and crowd scenes, more extras than ever were needed.

“It’s our biggest cast ever. And while I expected our number of volunteers to drop off ever so slightly as we went along, they didn’t. Family coming to do a family musical sounds really good to me. And they are really committed. You’d think that many people in a room would be chaos, but it’s not. They are focused, because it’s funny and it’s heartfelt. There’s real heart in it.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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