It’s easy to forget that the story of a little puppet who yearns to be a real boy isn’t just a Disney product, given the animated movie that’s been a childhood standard for more than 70 years. Children’s Theatre Company’s cleverly realized version of “Pinocchio,” however, presents a tale anchored in stage magic so immediate and vital it may make you forget the celluloid version.
Director Greg Banks’ adaptation of this venerable story starts as what looks like a work-in-progress. The stage is littered with scaffolding, drop cloths and sawhorses. When Dean Holt, dressed as a painter ready for work, wanders onstage, he’s flabbergasted to see an expectant audience. He tells them there must be some mistake since the theater is closed for painting and there will be no play today. After some urging, he relents and calls in four other painters. Since everyone expects a show, he announces, the five of them will present the story of Pinocchio.
The rest of the production is a madcap dance of ingenious proportions, as the actors fashion costumes, props and characters out of the debris and tools that litter the stage. Elise Langer’s perky Pinocchio dons a pointed newspaper hat and knee and elbow pads to transform into a convincingly jointed puppet. Bradley Greenwald shivers under a paint-spattered tarp as the poor carpenter Geppetto, and twitches a tail fashioned from a knitted scarf as the sly fox who tricks Pinocchio out of his five gold coins. Paintbrush ears turn Maggie Chestovich into a donkey, a shopping cart subs for a stagecoach and the scaffolding provides a precarious launching pad for Holt’s Blue Fairy.
This deceptively simple production conjures the same kind of magical world of imagination children themselves can create with cardboard tubes as swords and a discarded box as a sailing ship. Even Victor Zupanc’s musical contributions, coaxed from a variety of instruments and tools as he wanders about the stage, have a beguilingly uncomplicated charm. While this show is pitched at the youngest of audiences, Banks and his versatile cast add enough touches of sly humor to entertain their parents as well.
Some of Banks’ best works for CTC, such as his promenade-style productions of “Antigone” and “Romeo and Juliet,” have been pitched to an older audience, but with this adaptation and staging of “Pinocchio,” he shows he can engage the little ones as well. He and a stellar ensemble convincingly demonstrate that Geppetto isn’t the only one who can bring an inanimate object to life.
Lisa Brock writes regularly about theater.