Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
What parent hasn’t warned their child that failure to tell the truth could result in consequences reminiscent of the little puppet boy who found his nose growing longer and longer with each lie? Well, that story came delightfully to life Friday night as Flint Youth Theatre took to the Bower Theatre stage with an unusual production of Pinocchio.
Greg Banks’ clever adaptation of Carlo Collodi’s story began when the plastic curtain rose on a non-set simply displaying the back wall of the stage with scaffolding haphazardly placed here and there. Enter a group of painters assembled to begin painting who seem startled and undone at the sight of an audience. After a number of attempts to get us to leave, they decide to present the play to the best of their ability using what they can find around and about.
It works! It’s fun and not nearly as dark and scary as the original story could often be. Original music composed by Flint native David Kimber adds a light and tuneful touch as well.
As Gepetto, Mark Gmazel is at first gruff, then gentle as he fashioned a boy puppet from a piece of wood. Alyssa Banister as Pinocchio handled this memorable scamp nicely. She set the tone for everyone with her energy, terrific facial expressions, and ability to be both snotty and sweet as required.
Director Jeremy Winchester uses the scaffolding alternately as a forest, a stagecoach, and a workshop. When Pinocchio has gone very far astray, Winchester uses a lowered sandbag from the rafters to suspend the rescuing Fairy above the stage.
That Fairy, by the way, is a riot as played by Leah Dunlap. After running down the aisle ostensibly volunteering for the role, she dons a blue mop and a flowing flowered gown to be hoisted in the air where she waves her magic wand (wrench) over the proceedings.
Throughout the story, Gepetto’s friend, a Cricket, offers advice and admonition to Pinocchio. Kate Spademan does this role quite well with a believable hand held “cricket”.
Pinocchio’s story isn’t a happy one as the innocent boy (really – he’s made of wood!) is repeatedly taken in and led astray. First, music leads him astray and straight to, of all things, a puppet show! Flopping about on strings, Punch (Brandon Hart) and Judy (Sam Carter) do their best to warn him away, but the Showman (Bary Lehr) ensnares this string less puppet. When Pinocchio becomes too much to handle, he pays him off in gold and sends him on his way.
Next, a lame Fox (Jennifer Lynn) and a half-blind Cat (David A. Guster) come on the scene to con him out of his gold with stories of riches to come. Finally, a boy named Lampwick (Merek Alam) convinces Pinocchio to come with him to the land of fun and no school where he is soon turned into a donkey!
Escaping into the sea, he is soon swallowed by a whale that has also feasted on his papa! Happily reunited, they manage to escape the whale and return to land and safety.
All of this adventure is magically handled with the drop cloths and plastic with which the stage is strewn and the amazing part is that we believe it all! This is a story with lots to teach about truth, loyalty, and the effects our choices can have.
Pinocchio continues at Flint Youth Theatre through December 21. For tickets and more information contact the box office at 810-237-1530 or online at FlintYouthTheatre.org