Young People’s Theatre presents the Canadian premiere of The Adventures of Pinocchio, a musical by Neil Bartram (music and lyrics) and Brian Hill (book). Based on the classic story of a wooden puppet who yearns to become a real boy, Pinocchio’s tale emphasizes both the difficulty and importance of choices, revealing how they impact a life’s journey.
After he is whittled out from an enchanted tree trunk, Pinocchio (Connor Lucas) brings great joy to down-on-his-luck and grieving carpenter, Geppetto (Shawn Wright). Without the life experience to understand the consequences of his behaviour, Pinocchio runs away from home, headlong into a series of bad choices. Drawn to people and experiences that are fun and careless, he is easily manipulated by predatory characters who exploit his naiveté.
Having ditched school, he falls in with Jacob Macinnis’s endearingly sinister Puppet Master and his traveling show. Right around the corner, are Arinea Hermans and Joel Cumber’s deliciously devious Cat and Fox, who charmed the pants off me even as they weasel away Pinocchio’s few small coins. He is able to triumph over these villains and become properly human only after he has learned to internalize a moral code and forge a sense of responsibility.
Director Sheila McCarthy has crafted a thrilling musical comedy spectacle that never slips into pantomime—a style that I find particularly irksome. Joanna Yu’s sets and costumes are fanciful—seeming to pop right out of a storybook—setting up environments that are rich and evocative with clever and colourful details. Particularly stunning is the effect of a deep and churning ocean achieved through the flapping of blue cloth.
Julie Tomaino’s stylish and dynamic choreography is far more than enchanting spectacle. It is finely tuned to the musical phrasing, with playful gestures that cleverly reveal character even as they surprise and dazzle us.
Malindi Ayienga’s hilarious Blue Fairy serves as a conscience to Pinocchio and a cleverly unobtrusive sort of narrator for us. As she challenges Pinocchio to consider his actions carefully, she also helps the audience to understand the greater implications of his choices. All the while, Ayienga maintains a subtle sass that is consistently warm and natural.
I love how Lucas plays up Pinocchio’s awe and admiration for reckless bad-boy Lampwick (Noah Beemer) as an adorable boy-crush. The aw-shucks meet-cute is funny and endearing, which makes his cruel-joke fate—the iconic donkey transformation that results from his gluttony—particularly frightening and poignant.
With this delightful production, Young People’s Theatre continues it’s long-standing tradition of high-quality, consistently thought-provoking children’s entertainment. Recommended for children 5 and up, The Adventures of Pinocchio is masterfully executed musical theatre and a thoroughly compelling treat for audiences of any age.