Theater review: ‘Pippi Longstocking’

Pippi Longstocking may not be the kind of role model parents want for their kids.

She’s brash. She tells tall tales. She’s not a fan of school in general, and she thinks learning her multiplication tables is for the birds.

But Pippi’s a whirlwind with a very big heart, and it’s that view of her – smart, ingenious and with as much energy as a dozen adults – that’s likely to tickle just about everybody’s fancy in the musical Pippi Longstocking at Orlando Repertory Theatre.

Pippi, of course, is the little red-headed Swedish dynamo who first turned up to torment parents in Astrid Lindgren’s books in 1945. In the Thomas W. Olson-Roberta Carlson musical version, first performed in the early 1980s, she lives with a bit of melancholy: Her mother is dead (she’s an angel, Pippi maintains), and her father is a pirate who has sailed off somewhere and may never be coming home.

Yet Pippi makes do, and that’s the joy of this story: She makes do in a big way. Ensconced in her own colorful house, the Villa Villekulla, with a horse in her kitchen and a monkey as a pet, she makes friends with the boy and girl next door, and she turns her town topsy-turvy in a flash.

In the Rep’s production, director Katrina Ploof and her cohorts bring lots of dash to the story, with enough slapstick and sound effects to please the kids in the audience and a bit of dancing from unlikely quarters. (Michael Belopavlovich plays the light-footed horse and Matthew Nardozzi the nimble monkey).

Best of all, Leah Winstanley’s Pippi is, well, a pip: She has panache – no small thing for a young actor – and her high spirits rub off on everyone around her. Little Katie Mecca and Wyatt Rucks are very good in the roles of Annika and Tommy, the winsome friends-next-door. And many of the cast’s grownups add to the show’s flair – especially Sam Hazell and Dan Collins as Klang and Larsson, the town’s put-upon police force, and Chantry Banks and Leander Suleiman as Thunder and Bloom, a pair of hapless crooks.

The show’s songs are a bit underwhelming, and at an early performance the kids’ chorus was a little hard to understand. But those are small things in a production with so much sparkle. I mean, dancing monkeys, cracking knuckles and a little girl who can best a strong-man … What’s not to like? Only Pippi’s mathematics teacher is appalled.

‘Pippi Longstocking’

What: Orlando Repertory Theatre production of Thomas W. Olson-Roberta Carlson musical, adapted from Astrid Lindgren’s stories.
Where: Orlando Repertory Theatre, 1001 E. Princeton St., Orlando.
When: 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 5:30 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 10.
Cost: $17 general, $15 seniors 55 and older and college students, $11 under 18.
Call: 407-896-7365 Ext. 1.
Online: orlandorep.com.

(Photo: Leah Winstanley as Pippi Longstocking, courtesy of Orlando Repertory Theatre.)

One response to “Theater review: ‘Pippi Longstocking’

  1. Leah Winstanley has a big, bright future ahead of her.