The children’s musical, “The Adventures of Pinocchio,” adapted from the Carlo Collodi folktale by local writer Diane Doyle, with music and lyrics by Diane King Vann, is presented at Mission Viejo High School Drama for two days only – January 31st and February 1st at 7pm. The cast portrays an Italian Commedia Dell’arte traveling troupe of actors who come to town to tell the children the story of the adventures of Pinocchio, the wooden puppet who could talk, sing and dance.
In the opening minutes of "Pinocchio," as staged by MVHS’s Drama players, a ragtag rustic sweeps the stage, crooning "caro mia ben" and bantering with the audience. The rest of the actors tumble in, introducing themselves as a raucous traveling troupe of players. And briefly, there's an irresistibly loose sense of fun. Then the formal narrative begins. The antics of a seat-of-the-pants theater company setting up in the piazza are abandoned, and the opening scenes begin.
Basically the musical is an adventure-filled fairy tale with a moral. If you’re familiar with the Disney film version, this story may vary just a bit – but not by much. Geppetto is given an enchanted piece of wood from a friend and immediately goes home and carves out a puppet. He calls the puppet Pinocchio, who, surprisingly, can speak, dance and function just like any other boy. Pinocchio then dreams of becoming a real child, and Geppetto loves him like a son, but his unrestrained curiosity, dishonesty, and selfishness put him in constant peril. He tells lies, and every time he lies, his nose grows longer. His friends, the Cricket and the Blue Fairy, try to make him see that his dream – to be a real boy – can never come true until Pinocchio finally changes his ways.
Geppetto makes many sacrifices for his adopted son, even selling his only coat so that Pinocchio can go to school, but the little puppet finds it very hard to be good. He finds himself drawn to the livelier children of the town and is easily led astray, tumbling from one disastrous adventure to another. As his journeys take him to deceptive and dark places, we see Pinocchio doused with water by a mean neighbor, lose his wooden feet as he dries off over a hot stove, get hung upside down, be kidnapped and imprisoned into a circus, defrauded of all his money, turned into a beast of burden, and only narrowly escapes certain death at sea.
For this new and completely charming original musical adaptation, Diane Doyle has hewn closely to the 1883 novel written by Collodi. Ms. Doyle’s version condenses the basic episodic plots of the novel but also keeps some of its darker elements. She uses symbolic gesture and our own imagination to help set the scenes. When Pinocchio is transformed into a donkey, for instance, it’s done simply with donkey ears and changes to the posture. The roles of Zuppo the Fox (Toby Dervartanian) and Gatto the Cat (Kenny Cook) also create their characters mostly through posture and movement. The show is very tightly choreographed and features delightfully imaginative bits of staging, such as using opaque strips of light, airy cloth to represent water, as well as the mouth of the whale that has swallowed Geppetto, Pinocchio’s “father.”
Playing the part of Pinocchio is spritely Preston Veravanich, who physically captures the awkwardness and limited flexibility of a wooden boy while convincing us of the character’s innocence and naiveté. Luke Starr is totally believable as the elderly Geppetto and Natalie Moreta is elegant and graceful as the appealingly maternal Blue Fairy.
With scads of narration that the script employs to punch up the action as well as the congruity, it’s a show that demands versatility and precision of its actors. The first-rate champion troupe at this high school, however, are all willing and able.
Pinocchio, the book, is one of the greatest inventions of modern literature. An in-depth study of Pinocchio’s trial and errors can be an endlessly fascinating interpretation, one which many people feel may be a blueprint for an essential happy life. Thronged with memorable characters, the book is a sublime anomaly, merging the traditions of the picaresque, of street theater, and of folk and fairy tales into a much-loved stage musical that is a combination of adventure, satire, and powerful enchantment.
The show features an original score by Diane King Vann and an amazing ensemble of young teen performers, with many of them playing multiple characters. In addition to the starring roles mentioned, the cast includes Avery Ackerman (Young Girl), Alyssa Martino (Cricket), Elijah Lopez (Candlewick), Martin Efremov (Carlo), Amy Hiller (Farmer), Alexa Lehnus (Mrs. Delugia), Jordan Davenport (Falcon/the Fire Eater), and Lily Ohman, Ariel Perez and Caitlyn Phan as the Narrators. Ariel Perez and Caitlyn Phan also play Marionettes, along with Lily Ohman, McKenna Dement, Lexi Cook and Avery Ackerman.