The Adventures of Pinocchio at Chicago Shakespeare Theater | Theater review
The storytelling’s pretty wooden in this new family musical, but the rich design and lively ensemble will appeal to young audience members.
Talk about wooden: This new family musical, commissioned by Chicago Shakespeare Theater, is a pretty stiff retelling of Carlo Collodi’s tale of the puppet who wants to be a real boy. Geppetto (Don Forsten) carves Pinocchio (Skyler Adams) from a log that’s enchanted by Geppetto’s love for his late wife, imbuing the puppet with life. Pinocchio wants to explore the world rather than go to school, and sets off on a number of misadventures involving a greedy puppeteer (Ron Rains), a conniving Fox (Derek Hasenstab) and Cat (Heidi Kettenring), and the ill-behaved Lampwick (Dylan Saunders). Along the way, Pinocchio’s watched over by a magical, motherly lady in blue (Melody Betts).
The oddly paced storytelling gives short shrift to many of these episodes—Pinocchio and Lampwick spend approximately 30 seconds in the boys’-paradise flytrap of Terra di Ragazzi before they start turning into donkeys—while endlessly repeating itself elsewhere; Pinocchio’s life-lessons song “Choices” returns four times.
As in their grown-up collaboration, The Story of My Life, Bartram’s lyrics and melodies are kid-simple (perhaps appropriately here) and Hill’s book turns on some clunky devices (at one point the fairy magically whips up a pocket dictionary to read the definition of puppet). Still, the terrific cast enlivens the material. Newcomer Adams makes an appealing hero, and the rest of the ensemble proves adept at engaging young audience members. And the show is handsomely designed, particularly Meredith Miller’s enchanting puppets, which go strangely underused.