By Barry Reszel
Too often, shows marketed to young audiences and families with children are dismissed by “critics” as mere necessary stage introductions to those who (pretty please!) grow up to study Shakespeare, simultaneously eschewing the dreck that is contemporary theatre, musical theatre in particular.
To this admittedly sappy reviewer, at least, Marc Robin‘s adorable musical Pinocchio, on the 10 am stage at Marriott Lincolnshire this summer, deserves so much more than a cursory (figurative) pat on the head and the requisite, “It’s cute for kids (if only I liked kids).”
Truth is, this production is a cadre of consummate professionals putting on a show written with quick wit and catchy lyrics featuring a lovely score and fun choreography. Director Dominic Missimi drafted a team of all prime time players who seem to have a ball putting on Robin’s and Rachel Rockwell‘s take on the 1883 fictional Italian character that came into American consciousness (along with his pal Jiminy Cricket) via Disney’s 1940 animated movie. (More on the fascinating history may be read here.)
At Marriott, Geppetto (Jarrod Zimmerman) and his wife (Dara Cameron) open the show by introducing Geppetto’s puppet shop via song, creating an environment of kindness and warmth. Soon after, Geppetto’s wife dies. And Missimi’s staging of this event is tenderly direct and perfect. In fact, her walking off and her husband’s subsequent sadness, faith and resolve may be the most important take-away from this production. That’s particularly true for patrons (especially young patrons) who have experienced death of a love one themselves.
Geppetto continues wishing on stars until he meets a new friend (Jiminy Cricket’s replacement in this Robin telling), hyperactive grasshopper G. Hopper. Played by Chicagoland stage favorite George Keating, Hopper brings Geppetto the larger-than-life energy and humor he needs in his life.
Introducing the morality tales into the script (and singing the best songs) is the Blue Fairy, also played by Cameron, another beloved Chicagoland stage regular. Based on Geppetto’s honesty and goodness, she grants his wish of bringing the puppet Pinocchio to life. Her gorgeous rendition of “Every Wish” tells that Pinocchio will need to learn to love in order to become a real boy.
Once the wish is granted, Pinocchio (Andrew Spatafora) is guided by his conscience (Hopper) yet manages to get into plenty of trouble on his way to figuring out how to love. Two leads on many prime time stages throughout Chicagoland, Devin DeSantis and Laura Savage, shine as Fox and Kitty, hysterical villains and a wonderful song and dance duo.
Liam Quealy and Jeff Max round out the top-notch onstage talent, while one of Chicagoland’s hottest young musical directors, Tom Vendafreddo, and choreographers, Amanda Tanguay, make their Marriott Theatre debuts in these roles.
Really, the only thing separating this production from a prime time offering is its total running time (about an hour) and ticket price (be pleasantly surprised by reading below). So the advice here is to enjoy a Pinocchio matinee this summer.
And hey, kids will like it, too.
Marriott Theatre for Young Audiences, presents “Pinocchio” most Wednesdays through Sundays at 10 am, through August 2 at 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire. Tickets ($17.23, including taxes and fees) are available online here or by calling (847) 634-0200. Parking is free. Group discounts (20 or more) are available.