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SHE'S A PIP : Famed Children's Theatre Company Tosses Its Pigtails at Irvine

January 17, 1991|CORINNE FLOCKEN | Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for The Times Orange County Edition.

She's a child's dream and a parent's nightmare: a headstrong nymph who skips school, sleeps when she pleases and lives in a ratty old house that would send the local homeowners' association into a tizzy.

On Tuesday, Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Ephraim's Daughter Longstocking--better known as Pippi--continues her musical mission for nonconformity in Irvine in "Pippi Longstocking," a touring production by the Children's Theatre Company of Minneapolis. The group will present two performances of the family show at the Irvine Barclay Theatre.

"Pippi" is the fifth large-scale touring show in as many years to be mounted by CTC, which is recognized as one of the largest and most prestigious children's theaters in the United States. In addition to the tour, the company, which was founded in 1965, stages eight family-oriented shows each year (six at its $4.5-million facility in Minneapolis, and two more in neighboring St. Paul), and coordinates an extensive theater training program for children. Recipient of the American Theatre Assn.'s Jennie Heiden Award for excellence in professional children's theater, CTC recently completed a three- part exchange program with the Central Children's Theatre of Moscow and will participate in a similar exchange with a Shanghai group this spring.

During its five-month tour, "Pippi" will play 53 cities across the United States and one Canadian province. Each stop will bring audiences the same visual wallop that CTC strives for in its regular season, promised the group's national tour coordinator Heather Spicuzza.

"Our concern is to bring the visual perspective of original children's literature to the stage in all its glory," Spicuzza explained by phone from her Minneapolis office. "At CTC, design plays a large part in what we do. So, for example, when you hear in the story that Pippi walks across her roof, you really see her do it on stage."

Designed by Don Yunker and directed by Brian Russell, "Pippi" weds dramatic and technical elements to introduce young audiences to everything from vaudeville to silent-movie styles, Spicuzza said. Footlights line the edge of the stage, and a number of scenes are played as "oleos," or sketches, against a lavish backdrop like those used in vaudeville shows. In a tea party scene, actors time their movements and expressions to flickering lights and a scratchy sound track to give the effect of a silent film. To maintain all this technical wizardry, a nine-member crew travels along with the cast.

"To us, fully produced plays for children are an important part of our theater literature in this country," Spicuzza said. "That's not to say that another, simpler way is wrong; there's plenty of room for both styles. The important thing is exposing children to as many different styles of theater as possible."

Six adults and two rotating teams of three child actors ranging in age from 11 to 17 make up the "Pippi" cast, Spicuzza said. In order to keep up on their schoolwork, the children travel with the show on a three-weeks-on, three-weeks-off schedule. While on the road, they receive additional tutoring from an adult cast member, and, on occasion, from teachers in towns they visit. It's a demanding schedule for a child, but it has its payoffs, Spicuzza said.

"This is a terrific experience for the kids in the show educationally and emotionally," she noted. "They get to see a large part of the country and they have the experience of playing to and meeting totally different kinds of people at every stop."

Previously produced on the CTC Mainstage in 1987, "Pippi" was adapted by former CTC resident playwright Tom Olson from the story by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren. According to program notes, Lindgren first concocted Pippi's tale as a bedtime story for her daughter in the 1940s. Since then, the story of the quirky young girl who tosses her pigtails at convention has become a favorite of youngsters worldwide.

When selecting a touring show, CTC's artistic staff looks for works that reflect the company's dedication to providing a diverse mix of children's entertainment, Spicuzza said. Next year, the group will tour their version of Oscar Wilde's "The Canterbury Ghost."


Children's Theatre Company of Minneapolis presents "Pippi Longstocking."


Tuesday, Jan. 22, at 11 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.


Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine.


Located on the UC Irvine Campus at the corner of Campus Drive and Bridge Street, across from the Irvine Marketplace.


$8 to $12.

Where to call

(714) 854-4646.

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