Chicago Theatre Review
He’s Got No Strings!
Pinocchio – Filament Theatre
Although there have been many versions and incarnations of Carlo Collodi’s 1883 children’s novel, The Adventures of Pinocchio, probably the most familiar is the groundbreaking 1940 animated version by the Walt Disney Studios. Because of this full-length cartoon, everyone remembers the story. They know about the lonely woodcarver named Geppetto who creates a little wooden puppet who eventually becomes a real boy. Audiences remember Jiminy Cricket, the cunning Fox and Cat, the evil puppeteer Stromboli, Lampwick, Pleasure Island and Monstro the whale. And, of course, they remember the beautiful Blue Fairy and how “When You Wish Upon a Star” made everything end happily ever after.
However, young Chicago teacher, director, writer and composer Tyler Beattie, with a whole slew of original musicals and adapted works to his credit, has created what he calls, a folk musical version of the story. It’s only 60 minutes in length, includes all the major characters and hits the main plot points of Collodi’s classic. In addition it’s witty and clever, showcases the talents of only six actors to play dozens of roles and the songs are wonderfully melodic and catchy. The multitalented cast not only acts and sings, but provides all the accompaniment, as well. And, best of all, this show captures and holds the attention of all ages.
The dynamic Scott Ferguson returns to the Filament Theatre to direct this energetic production, overflowing with imagination and loaded with creativity and talent. He fully utilizes the theatre’s entire three-quarter-round performance space, strewing the floor with pillows and blankets for kiddies to lounge upon and dotting the outskirts of the playing area with old-fashioned lanterns. Brad Caleb Lee’s set consists mainly of a keyboard parked prominently upstage center, a chifforobe on wheels upstage left, from which props can be retrieved, and a low, square trunk centerstage that serves a number of purposes. Kudos to Jeff Semmerling for his stunning mask and puppet designs that enhance Noel Huntzinger’s versatile, colorfully simple costumes.
The cast is fantastic. Every one of them is a talented actor, singer and musician, skilled on multiple instruments. Felipe Carrasco plays Geppetto with warmth and humanity. He also charms with his guitar accompaniment, as well. Nik Kmiecik is wonderfully mischievous as both Lampwick and the Cat, while serenading on piano and banjolele. Pixie-like Mara Dale commands as the Three Consciences and other characters while playing lead keyboard. Kamille Dawkins is both funny as the coach driver and menacing as the Fox, yet she still keeps the beat on the upright bass. Lovely Maddy Low is charming and maternal as the Blue Fairy, while hitting all the right notes on the saxophone and accordion. And, last but not least, handsome Roberto Jonson brings life and laughter to the spirited wooden boy, as Pinocchio. He also comes to life on the guitar, when needed. Together this excellent cast of six creates an ensemble that feels much larger.
Guests of all ages can munch on popcorn and get up close and personal with all the characters, while they’re performing only inches away from them. Tyler Beattie’s musical sparkles with wit and humor, while master director Scott Ferguson gently coaxes warmth and honesty through its many diverse characters and Pinocchio’s marvelous adventures. In the end, this musical is a story with a sound moral. Children will leave the theatre smiling, understanding that learning, working hard and taking care of those who love you will ultimately transform every little puppet into a real person.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented by Filament Theatre, 4041 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com