by Lynn on November 18, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Young People’s Theatre, Toronto, Ont.


Book by Brian Hill

Music and lyrics by Neil Bartram

Directed by Sheila McCarthy

Music director, David Terriault

Choreography by Julie Tomaino

Set and costumes by Joanna Yu

Lighting by Louise Guinand

Sound by Adam Harendorf

Cast: Malindi Ayienga

Noah Beemer

Joel Cumber

Susan Henley

Arinea Hermans

Sierra Holder

Connor Lucas

Jacob Macinnis

Kelsey Verzotti

Shawn Wright

The charming story of a marionette who wanted to be a boy gets  the musical theatre treatment. Lovely production but who was the compose/lyricist thinking about when he wrote these complex, esoteric lyrics?

 The Story.  Of course the show, The Adventures of Pinocchio is based on the book of the same name written by Italian writer, Carlo Collodi in 1881. It’s been adapted here by Brian Hill with music and lyrics by Neil Bartram.

It is about a wooden marionette named Pinocchio who wanted to really be a little boy. Pinocchio was created by Geppetto a master wood caver. He recently lost his wife Alice to illness. They always wanted a son so Geppetto carved the wooden puppet out of a special tree as a substitute son. Geppetto wanted Pinocchio to stay home with him and go to school. Geppetto sold his coat to get the money for an ABC book that Pinocchio could take to school.  Pinocchio wanted to explore the world. So he sold the book to buy a ticket to a puppet show.

Naturally when Pinocchio left home he was so trusting and innocent he got into trouble. He was watched over by a magical Blue Fairy who tried to keep him on the straight and narrow. And then there was the business about his lying. Every time he told a lie his nose grew.  He had to learn to stop lying and be a better “human” being and think of others before he could be human.

The Production and Comment. I liked it a lot. Johanna Yu designed the set and costumes and they are wonderfully inventive. Geppetto chisels at a round hunk of wood and bits and pieces fall away revealing the arms and legs of the marionette inside. Very clever.

When Pinocchio appears in ‘human form’ (Connor Lucas) he has chisel and joint marks-tattoos on his arms and legs. When he becomes human, discovering the qualities of honesty, integrity and selflessness, characters remove the tattooed sleeves from his arms and legs.

There is a whale in pieces which when strung together create an impressive creature that nearly eats Pinocchio and Geppetto. Again, terrifically clever.

The Blue Fairy is played by Malindi Ayienga with a matter of fact directness and not one trace of sentimentality.  She guides Pinocchio with a firm hand and voice and if you want to believe the Blue Fairy is the ghost of Geppetto’s wife looking out for their ‘son’ then go for it. In those moments Ayienga plays her with confidence and kindness. Rather than some mechanical device that elongates Pinocchio’s nose when he lies, the Blue Fairy affixes noses of different lengths on his existing nose, depending on the size of the lie.

Pinocchio is played by Connor Lucas with an innocence that is charming. And the transformation when he becomes a boy is moving.  Shawn Wright as Geppetto is loving and sweet as well as full of conviction. In fact the whole cast is terrific. The show is directed with imagination and care by Sheila McCarthy who knows a thing or two about using ones imagination and in finding humour and humanity in a beloved story.

I did have some quibbles.  While I liked the production a lot it is tricky when we are told Geppetto can’t afford more wood for his models so he uses whatever wood he has in the house to make his stuff. He even used the beams in the roof and we are lead to believe there is no more wood. How then to explain a wood door to represent Geppetto’s house and a wood counter top in the house?  Perhaps a blip of a mistake?

Also this show is supposed to be for kids 5-years-old and up and I think Neil Bartram’s lyrics are too sophisticated. There’s one lyric using the word “prosaic.” Now what five-year-old kid will know that? More often than not I get the sense that Neil Bartram is showing off his rhyming skills at the expense of his audience. I must confess I don’t know how old Bartram thinks his target kid audience is.  Also the songs in some cases go on too long. Kids let you know they are unhappy or not interested because they fidget.  At times in my school matinee performance the place seems a mass of fidgeting kids, including me.  I’d recommend this for older kids, but not 5-years-old.

Young People’s Theatre presents:

Opened: Nov. 14, 2019.

Closes: Jan. 5, 2019.

Running Time: 75 minutes.

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