A New Musical
Music and Lyrics by Neil Bartram
Book by Brian Hill
Directed by Rachel Rockwell
CST injects new life into classic tale of boy puppet
Alas, Jiminy Cricket is gone – but not entirely forgotten. Echoes of his Disney-created presence appear in four brief moments of the charming world premiere of Pinocchio currently mounted at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. At four intervals during the play’s action, our wooden hero stops, bends down, picks up an (invisible) cricket and speaks to it – ultimately granting it continued life in his human future. It is neat thread, just enough for the adult members of the audience to enjoy the fleeting film memory.
The adults are pleased and the children are enchanted with twists and turns for every age – from bouncing balls into the audience (to the delight of the little ones) to the more sober moral lessons of love, care, and (above all) honesty as the puppet strives to become a real, human boy.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s productions never disappoint. Here, the staging is creative and delightful, with innovative sets, fully fleshed characters, smooth interweaving of puppets and actors, and colorful costuming.
The slimy Fox (Derek Hasenstab) and his slithery Cat companion (Heidi Kettenring) are wonderfully evil as they con money from our unwary hero. Hannah Sielatycki and Katie Spelman are charming as life-size marionettes while Ron Rains as a selfish, self-serving puppet master is perfect as their unyielding taskmaster. Liz Pazik plays a cheerful, smiling driver who will lead the boys into a dire transformation. Don Forston, larger than life, nails the role of Geppetto, the woeful, father searching for his wayward son. A sneering Dylan Saunders plays the criminally inclined youth Lampwick who so easily leads Pinocchio astray. And no one could be more winsome and spritely than Skyler Adams as a hyperactive Pinocchio scampering from adventure to adventure while learning moral lessons about the dangers of making the wrong choices in life and the ramifications of telling lies.
If there is any weakness in this production, it is in the 16 songs. Music and lyrics are uniformly pleasant enough but in spite of the talent of the cast, and the enhanced pleasure of a live orchestra accompanying each performance, they provide no memorable tunes. The choreography is far more engaging. Kudos to director/choreographer Rachel Rockwell.
Brian Hill’s book adds a neat twist to earlier versions by introducing a new character: a wife for the wood carver Geppetto. While she dies almost immediately, she is essential to the plot, because she and her husband always longed for a son. Now, after her death, a magical tree grows from her grave providing the wood for our puppet hero. This results in a wonderful carving scene — from tree into boy — as Geppetto illustrates the results of an old question-and-answer parable: “How do you carve an elephant? You chip away everything that is not elephant.” The same can – and is — applied to creating a boy.
While the mother is vanishes, she lingers on spiritually when her role is merged with that of the silver-tongued Blue Fairy/Storyteller (Melody Betts) who oversees and guides the lad through his trials. She is the glue that binds the fairy tale together from “Once Upon a Time” to the requisite “Happy Ending.”
CST’s family productions are the best theater buy for the money in Chicago, providing an introduction for young and a renewed appreciation of drama for adult audiences. Pinocchio is a delight both for those who are initially seeing the classic tale (written by Carlo Collodi in 1883), and for those who will be revisiting it in this new, innovative version.
Beverly Friend, Ph.D.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, www.chicagoshakes.com, 312 – 595-5600 tickets $18-$25, 7:30 pm, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays 3 pm, Wednesdays through Thursdays at 11 am and 2 pm, running time is 75 minutes with no intermission, through August 28, 2011. Recommended for those ages 5 and up. Forty percent parking discount at Navy Pier garages.