Raleigh Little Theatre’s penultimate production for the 2013-14 season is Pinocchio, a children’s musical that chronicles the antics of a wooden puppet on his whirlwind journey to become a boy. As one would expect, his trials are many and kindnesses few, as he learns that responsibility and love are the keys to becoming real.
The production is populated with young people who have trained at RLT to stage a production, from being backstage or in the dressing rooms, to acting on the boards. The boards were supporting a grand number of participants, as this show sports a cast of 25, a baker’s dozen of production staff, and a whopping 45 crew members. Directed by Linda O’Day Young, this fleet 80-minute show was met with the highest of enthusiasm by the opening night audience.
Costumes took a front and center place as most everyone — from Pinocchio himself to the many ensemble players — had on a specialty costume. Pinocchio (Parker Perry) was dressed entirely in black, except for the wooden parts of him that were puppet-like; these were attached in front of him. Completing the effect was the unique mask Pinocchio wore, with a leaf still attached to his nose. This nose is animated; when Pinocchio tells a whopper, his nose grows. And it does so in and of itself, seemingly by magic. Kudos to Jenny Mitchell, costumer, and Anne Boivin, mask designer, who got this one working.
The show is sprinkled with a few veteran actors in key roles. Gipetto, the carpenter who creates Pinocchio, is played by Phil Lewis, who has been a mainstay in RLT productions for a decade or more. Playing alongside Gipetto is Antonio Cricket (Lilly Overton). Antonio is a straight-laced little cricket who is full of admonishments to Pinocchio, and a good bit of “I told you so” as well.
Pinocchio’s journey to becoming a boy brings him to face many unusual characters. The first is a traveling cast of marionettes who invite Pinocchio to join them. He is more than happy to do so, as he seems smitten by the young girl marionette, Columbina (Aubrey Clyburn). But shortly into his term as a member of the troupe, he meets a pair of rogues who book themselves as the Cat and the Fox. The Cat (Paige Harper) has only one eye; the Fox, played by veteran Brent Wilson, has a game leg. The two of them woo Pinocchio away from the troupe with promises of rest from long days of rehearsals and performing (“We Go Together”). This duet was met by thunderous applause as they delighted this audience.
Many other creatures populate Pinocchio’s unusual journey. There’s the Owl and the Crow (Catherine Scott and Julia Ryan) who spend some time deciding whether or not Pinocchio, whom they have picked up on a stretcher, is alive or dead. We have the Lady in Blue (Cassidy McCardle), a fairy who almost gets Pinocchio to where he wants to be, a real boy. But before she can succeed, another distraction arises in the form of Candlestick (Bryan Bunch), who whisks Pinocchio away to the Land of Ease (“The Wonderful Land of Ease,” full company), where children play as they wish, get whatever they want, and have no grownups to correct them. How he gets out of this one I leave to you. It’s complicated!
The music is accompanied by piano, the work of Musical Director Yvonne Koch, and these young people have a full show of choreography to do, supplied by Nancy Rich. For the most part, the show ran smoothly, and the traffic problems were kept to a minimum, but they were not entirely missing. Sometimes this full-blown production managed to get the better of this young cast, and the show was, while wildly entertaining (especially for this varied audience), still a little rough around the edges. One may expect that these will iron themselves out as the run progresses. Nevertheless, there was an overall exuberance that filled this show, and it made up for a good many minor wrinkles technically. There were many signs of Commedia in this show, some strong company numbers, and a buoyancy that kept this cast ticking throughout the show.
RLT took a gamble running two children’s shows back-to-back, their last being “OPQRS, Etc.,” performed in the smaller Gaddy Goodwin Theatre. But the gamble paid off. This show was an unqualified hit with the theatergoers. Especially if you have young children, you may safely add Pinocchio to your list of “must sees” this theatrical season.
Pinocchio continues through Sunday, May 4. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.