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Pippi: The Strongest Girl in the World, the new musical by young company Fourth Gorgon Theatre, obviously celebrates this title and even includes clever gags to illustrate the sheer muscle power of this small but fiery nine-year-old girl. But Pippi’s strength goes beyond lifting weights, and that’s where this new musical for young audiences finds its own strength.
Placing the intimate audience on an actual boat on Toronto’s lakeshore, Pippi’s creators, Annie Tuma (who plays Pippi herself), Lena Maripuu and director Jocelyn Adema, ask the viewers to enter uncharted territory, adapt to new surroundings and go with the flow — all traits that Pippi demonstrates throughout the performance.
Beginning with the story of Pippi’s orphaned life, those unfamiliar with the character will learn of her mother’s death and her father’s shipwreck, leaving him lost at sea and separated from his daughter. After a life at sea, Pippi now waits for his return on land, where she has befriended “landlubbers” Tommy (Lucas Penner) and Annika (Tymika Mckenzie-Clunis).
In the musical, this trio meets Pippi’s pirate pals Flicka (Maripuu), Astrid (Kelsey Tuma), Melker (Mike Ricci) and Rolig (Kit Boulter and Rielle Ritchie, alternating in the role that steers the ship when it pulls out from the harbour).
Tommy and Annika learn how to swab the deck, the pirates learn how to play make-believe at a fancy coffee party and Pippi navigates the collision of her two lives: the one she knew at sea and the one she’s discovering on land.
Throughout the high energy, joyous music by Landon Doak, with rhymes and lyrics so fast that any Hamilton fan could appreciate them, Pippi keeps the peace between these two groups as differences flare, all while maintaining hope that one day she and her father will be reunited.
Tuma and Maripuu make sure to balance the fun and games made for pint-sized pirates with the gravity of Pippi’s story, for the shipmates who are old enough to grasp it, and they evidently display their admiration for this young girl who stands on her own just as much as her own braided pigtails do.
Only an hour long, Pippi: The Strongest Girl in the World could use a more developed plot and storyline, and emphasize the conflict between Pippi’s two groups of friends — as it is right now, they get along a little too swimmingly. But the at-sea experience is almost enough to plug the plot holes, not to mention the water cannons.
With a selection of creators that were involved with last season’s hit children’s musical Peter Pan by Bad Hats Theatre (featuring music by Doak, performances by Adema and Maripuu, and written by Pippi’s choreographer, Reanne Spitzer), which won three Dora Awards and will return this winter at Soulpepper Theatre, there’s momentum in this young group of musical creators for development and expansion. This maiden voyage of Pippi: The Strongest Girl in the World proves that this crew has a solid course set out in front of them — they’re just going to need a bigger boat.