SANDY — When I heard that My Son Pinocchio was available to review, I was ecstatic. As a little kid, I remember watching the classic Disney film Pinocchio, and the 2000 television film Geppetto, which starred Drew Carrey, on which this production is based. With a book by David I. Stern and music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, one can expect to have a show filled with memorable tunes. In the style of Schwartz’s already famous musical Wicked, My Son Pinocchio shows the classic story of Pinocchio through the eyes of Geppetto. Through a story filled with magic and whimsy, Hale Centre Theatre brilliantly brought to life a classic story with a new twist gloriously geared towards children and adults alike.
From the moment the lights dimmed, and the overture began, the actors made the show especially geared towards children. Beginning the show were the fairies in training: Rosa, Viola, Aranica, and Sue, played by McKelle Shaw, Jamie Traxler, Abigail Higbee and Mikayla Bounous. Descending the aisles in the Jewel Box Stage, they engaged with the children in the audience and even gave select kids in the front row the honor of waving their magic wands and making the curtain rise “magically.”
From that moment, the magic began and never ceased with regards to every aspect of the show. The set was simply beautiful and elaborate for such a children geared show. Set designer Jennifer Stapley Taylor created a vista of many different locations which were original but also able to invoke the magic and nostalgia of the classic Disney film. Of particular mention was Geppetto’s toy shop. Three large towers resembled the shop both inside and out. As needed, the turn table on the stage would rotate as would the towers. It worked especially well in the scene were Geppetto walks out of his shop to make a wish on the wishing star. Other impressive sets were the locations of Pleasure Island, Strombolli’s backstage, and the creative way the whale Monstro was realized.
To fill these beautiful sets were amazing actors, all of whom were an absolute delight to watch and directed well by David Paul Smith. Leading the charge was Mark Pulham as Geppetto. Pulham joyfully exuberated the rapture one would expect from a toy shop owner. Pulham also possesses a beautiful voice which only added to his fun and heartfelt performance, especially during the number “Empty Heart.”
On the other end of the spectrum was the over-the-top villain, Stromboli, played by the ever fun to watch Kelly Griffiths. Donning an Aldolpho-like accent, wig, and persona, Griffiths was never boring to watch. Portraying a likeable villain can be difficult to achieve, but Griffith never struggled in that regard. And yet, while being so fun to watch, Griffith also convincingly, but briefly, portrayed the horrors that come with those associated with kidnapping and abuse. This was surprising to see in this production for kids, which made me appreciate it even more. And no Disney villain is complete without a catchy villain song. Strombolli sings “Bravo, Strombolli” in an impressive manner.
Like the leads, the ensemble was a joy to watch. Especially the wonderfully talented actresses portraying Stromboli’s life-sized marionettes. Played by Abigail Budge and Emily Tessa Ebert, these two were remarkable in their roles as giant, human-like puppets. While Strombolli held their strings, they moved so believably that, if they weren’t listed in the program, one would think they were actual puppets. In one word, it was remarkable.
With regards to the children ensemble, I cannot begin to emphasize how fun it was to watch them absolutely shine and hold their own on that stage. It may sound tacky and cliché, but those kids were cute as buttons. From the first song when they sing about “Toys,” their joy and happiness was absolutely palpable. Another enjoyable number from the kids was “Satisfaction Guaranteed,” wherein “perfect” children were created for Geppetto to choose from to replace Pinocchio. The kids displayed characters that were so funny to watch in a Children of the Corn sort of way. Of course, leading the children was the adorable Coleman Higbee as Pinocchio. His beautiful voice and charming presence was a highlight of the evening. My only regret was that the script didn’t have Pinocchio in it more, because Higbee was an absolute treasure.
On top of all of these wonderful elements was the wonderful message the show contains. My Son Pinocchio has something for everyone, which came as a shock to me. While absolutely a show for young audiences, My Son Pinocchio packs a powerful punch to the heartstrings for adults. The end when both Geppetto and Pinocchio learn their lessons and learn to love one another unconditionally was an emotional moment for me. Slowing the pace way down and embracing in a tender hug, Pulham and Higbee made the story hit home. “Like a bolt out of the blue,” I was both entertained and surprisingly touched.
If at all possible, I would encourage anyone with children to go to Hale Centre’s production of My Son Pinocchio. You will find yourself wrapped up in whimsy, magic, and a lot of heart . . . no strings attached.
Donate to Utah Theatre Bloggers Association today and help support theatre criticism in Utah. Our staff work hard to be an independent voice in our arts community. Currently, our goal is to pay our reviewers and editors. UTBA is a non-profit organization, and your donation is fully tax deductible.