It’s an odd feeling, sitting in a theater full of little kids who are shouting, “Go to school! Go to school!” at a character on the stage.
But it’s a natural response to the delightful retelling of “Pinocchio” at Seattle Children’s Theatre, a show co-produced with The Children’s Theatre Company of Minneapolis, where it played earlier.
Carlo Collodi’s classic fairy tale of a spunky wooden puppet who longs to be “a real boy” is well-served by a framing device smartly applied by adapter-director Greg Banks.
Entering the theater, the audience finds the stage has become a construction zone. The crew of Italian workmen realize that people have arrived to see the adventures of Pinocchio. So they obligingly act out the story, using ladders and scaffolding, paint brushes and buckets, paint rags and drop cloths as props for make-believe.
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If children attending know “Pinocchio” only from the popular animated Disney film version, the storyline here (more faithful to Collodi’s novel) will offer some fresh twists.
As in most versions, the poor puppeteer Geppetto builds a puppet which surprises him by coming to life as a good-hearted but naive, sometimes naughty little lad.
More than anything, Pinocchio longs to be a “real boy.” Hence his eagerness to attend school. But he keeps getting distracted, and into jams. En route to the schoolhouse he can’t resist making a detour to watch a street puppet show.
Later he accepts an invitation from a man offering a lift to a dreamy playland, where a week is made up of “six Saturdays and one Sunday,” and life is (allegedly) nonstop fun and games.
But Pinocchio winds up being (briefly) turned into a donkey (with paintbrushes for ears). He and Geppetto get swallowed by a whale. And nasty Fox and Cat pretend to befriend him, but wind up robbing him.
These escapades are mainly humorous, with the five-member cast earning many laughs with slapstick-style shtick.
There are some sober moments, too, when Pinocchio fears his surrogate papa has drowned, and when he is bullied when he finally gets to school.
But the mood is mainly upbeat and, except for some saggy stretches in the first act, it tickled and interested SCT’s young (ages about 5 to 8) patrons at a recent matinee.
They were wooed in by the creative ways the set and props helped conjure the tale, like when a pulley was used to hoist an impromptu fairy into the air. (Who needs animated special effects when you can do that?)
And they were very responsive to the audience-participation bits, when Pinocchio urges everyone to get vocal and help him decide what to do and where to go. (Not that he always follows their advice.)
The traveling cast, which includes the ebullient musician Victor Zupanc, playing guitar and accordion and much more, are inviting and adept. And in the lead, actor Elise Langer gives Pinocchio a raffish impishness that makes him all the more lovable.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org