As we’ve known since 1881, the life of a lying puppet is not an easy one—everybody nose the troubles Pinocchio, er, faces when he’s generous with the truth.
Attending a matinée performance of this new production (music and lyrics: Neil Bartram; book: Brian Hill) proved to be a fine choice. With the hall full of excited, mostly Grade 3 students and their minders, I was guaranteed an honest reaction from many young minds—some of them, perhaps, having their first experience with professional theatre. Three cheers for that!
The design team—most especially set and costume designer Joanna Yu, whose inventiveness grew trees, carved logs and filled the ocean with a ravenous blue fish (in a quiet homage to Jaws), coupled with Louise Guinand’s equally creative lighting—kept all comers rivetted to the action with nary a need to be “shushed”.
Hill’s book had lots of plays on words (notably the donkey sequence) to liven up this tale of truth or consequences, but drew few laughs from the younger set.
Bartram’s score was pleasantly melodious and artfully orchestrated for the small ensemble (keyboards, winds, percussion). The only quibble being the excessive use of a piano vamp for the Fox (Joel Cumber) and Cat (Arinea Hermans) that conjured up the intro to “One” as the next musical number.
Connor Lucas as Pinocchio was a very good choice. Sporting a strong voice (more support for the top can only improve it), above-average dance skills (choreographer Julie Tomaino wisely catering to the troupe’s individual strengths and challenges), provided musical icing on this talented man’s cake by serving up a very accomplished jazzy violin solo between the evil Puppet Master’s (Jacob MacInnis fired on all invisible strings and was a hoot playing one of the boys in Pleasure Island) “star” shows.
As Geppetto, Shawn Wright sang up a storm and was entirely credible along the search for his wooden son through thick and thin and dodging sharp incisors.
Malindi Ayienga triumphed as Blue Fairy, moving the narrative forward and deftly fastening the elongated “lies” on Pinocchio’s face with spot-on timing to the movement and music.
The Driver had a wonderfully cackling take thanks to Susan Henley’s innate sense of fun and expressive visage. None better than Noah Beemer to play Lampwick—his braying donkey imitation could have been at home on Noah’s ark.
The sound reinforcement had a few awkward results (largely due to wardrobe “coverings”) and when the entire ensemble were at full cry, the auditorium was awash with a maddeningly brittle sound rather than a homogeneous blend.
Director Sheila McCarthy tied everything together with countless wise choices regarding staging and use of the hall (the parade delighted all). Disbelief was happily suspended even as the loveable puppet morphed from splinters to human flesh one wise decision at a time. JWR