Young People's Theatre's imaginative musical is surprising, charming and relevant – and that's no lie
THE ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO by Neil Bartram and Brian Hill (Young People’s Theatre, 165 Front East). Runs to January 5. $10-$54. 416-862-2222. See listing. Rating: NNNN
Just like last year’s Mary Poppins, Young People’s Theatre has another excellent and family-friendly seasonal hit on its hands with The Adventures Of Pinocchio.
Carlo Collodi’s tale of the eponymous wooden puppet’s (Connor Lucas) attempts to withstand temptation, please his concerned father Geppetto (Shawn Wright) and become a real boy has, over the decades, been adapted and translated hundreds of times.
But it’d be hard to match the charm, wit and poignancy of this 70-minute musical version by Neil Bartram (music, lyrics) and Brian Hill (book).
The creators and director Sheila McCarthy have thought through most elements of the tale. Even the backstory of Geppetto’s dead wife – usually an annoying example of the missing-mother syndrome in fairy tales – is effectively and efficiently suggested by a moving number in which the widower dances with one of her old dresses.
There are lots of surprises in Joanna Yu’s sets and costumes, ranging from Pinocchio’s emergence from a block of wood to the appearance of a giant fish in the ocean. Even the growing of Pinocchio’s nose (when he lies) is achieved in a way that’s simple yet effective. All the details rely less on expensive props and flashy pyrotechnics than on imagination.
The songs are full of clever rhymes and hummable melodies that help propel the plot and add to character. And the cast is uniformly excellent, from musical veterans like Wright and Susan Henley (as a sinister driver/circus ringmaster) to gifted young performers like Jacob Macinnis (as a sadistic puppet master), Arinea Hermans and Joel Cumber (as the most wickedly fun cat and fox combo you’ll ever see), Malindi Ayienga as an assured, clear-voiced narrator and Blue Fairy and Sierra Holder and Kelsey Verzotti (as Mary and Annette – say their names together quickly and you’ll get another cute joke).
Even with his face partly obscured by a mask for most of the show, Lucas effectively captures Pinocchio’s inner struggles. And he nails one of the centrepiece dance numbers, choreographed by Julie Tomaino, complete with vigorous tapping.
YPT’s decision to mount this story this season feels appropriate. The show’s overarching theme of being accountable for one’s actions resonates powerfully – especially in a time when truth seems to be fluid.