There were no dreams of walking hand-in-hand along a moonlit beach or sharing a chocolate malt with two straws at the candy kitchen. The fantasies were more like arm-wrestling for the best seat in the cafeteria or running a race all the way to the other end of the park.

But rest assured, Pippi Longstocking was my first crush. It's just with Pippi, arm-wrestling and running seemed the best way to show affection for the redheaded girl with the horizontal pigtails.

You can see for yourself Friday when the Pleasanton Civic Arts Stage Company opens its stage production of the children's classic, created on a whim by author Astrid Lindgren, who got the idea for the wonderfully outrageous youngster from her own daughter, Karen, 9, who was home sick from school. Karen wanted a get-well story, so Mother, took a cue from her daughter, who thought up a tale about her companion, "Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Ephraim's Daughter Longstocking," and the classic was born.


Advertisement

What Lindgren probably didn't realize at the time was how beloved her story would become and how much it would appeal to boys as well as girls. I remember her very well from my earliest days of elementary school, when hearing the Pippi stories taught me not all girls were like the jump-roping, hop-scotching, giggling annoyances I saw on the playground. No way — Pippi was strong enough to lift a strongman and independent enough to have adventures on her own. It was only later I realized her tales also discussed the importance of friendships and strong relationships.

And I wasn't alone. It turns out Pleasanton's Civic Arts Stage Company Coordinator Mark Duncanson was thrilled when the musical retelling of the story, adapted by Thomas W. Olson with music by Roberta Carlson was brought up for the city's approval.

"It was a childhood favorite that I'm kind of selfishly excited we're doing," he says. It's the story of Pippi, who is a free spirit who seems to approach life with a reckless abandon."

She is the sort of character who appeals to boys and girls, a change from some of the princess stories that make up so much of the classic fairy tale selection.

"But a character like Pippi Longstocking, she may not know where her dad is all the time, because he's the sort of guy who goes off for a time, but she has a moral compass and is always commenting on what her 'dad always says ...' " said Duncanson.

Rebecca Ennals, the artistic director of the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, which partners with the Civic Arts Stage Company on three productions each year, said the Pippi character, while not exactly a role model, "allows all of us to dream of what we might do if only we had the nerve.

The show includes 40 children in two alternating casts, with Arianna Feemster, of Danville, and Peyton Cook, of Pleasanton, sharing the title role. Jessica Smith, as Mrs. Prysselius, is a guest artist.

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through March 9. All performances are in the Firehouse Arts Center at 4444 Railroad Ave. Tickets, at $10 to $18 for adults and $6 to $12 for seniors and children, can be reserved at 925-931-4848 or www.firehousearts.org.

Strings at Bankhead: Red Clay Ramblers, 40-year veterans of the string-band arts, bring their North Carolina musical roots to Livermore's Bankhead Theater at 7:30 p.m. March 13. The laid-back group of musicians presents a wide repertoire of bluegrass, country, rock, gospel and New Orleans jazz, all with an engaging sense of fun.

They also did a run of Broadway theater, where their show, "Full Moon" won them a Tony Award. Tickets to the show in the theater at 2400 First St. in Livermore cost $34 to $54 and can be reserved at 925-373-6800 or www.bankheadtheater.org.

Contact Pat Craig at pjcraig495@yahoo.com.