RIVERTON — A fun way to experience traditional stories is to see how they are told from another perspective or with a new twist. I think this is what makes Wicked, Into the Woods, and even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead are so successful. As a retelling of the Pinocchio tale from he perspective of Geppetto, My Son Pinocchio falls into this category of play. With a book by David I. Stern and a score by Stephen Schwartz, My Son Pinocchio not only entertains, but provides a positive message for both the audience and the performers in Riverton Arts Council’s production.
Director Ginger Garn is at the helm of this production that has dozens of actors, almost all of them children and teenagers. Garn managed the large number of children in the cast very well and made sure every actor was included in as many scenes as possible, which I find to be a noble goal in youth theatre productions. Garn included some nice moments in the show that emphasized the script’s wholesome message, especially in the animal scene and in the final scene of the play, which was important for both children and parents to understand. I thought that “Just Because It’s Magic” was an excellent way to end the first act. Garn staged the song well and it was one of the high points of the show. Finally, Garn directed a very touching final scene to the play, which emphasized the emotional core of the play and made the main characters all very relateable.
The lead actor of My Son Pinocchio was Rex King, who played Geppetto. As one of only three adults in the cast, King brought a little bit of professionalism to the production. King related well with his young co-stars and also worked well as the emotional center of the play. The other major adult cast member was Dan Brock. As Stromboli, Brock was supposed to be the “bad guy” of the play because he holds Pinocchio prisoner until the boy escapes and then later pursues Pinocchio. Brock wasn’t as mean as I think Stromboli needs to be; I never felt like he gave Pinocchio much of a reason to run away or be afraid. Also, the song “Bravo Stromboli” should show Stromboli as a being a little crazy, which Brock didn’t convey very well. However, Brock sang that pseudo-operatic song well, and I found myself looking forward to the reprise of “Bravo Stomboli” in the second act.
Among the child actors there were a few standouts. Cami Twede was a delightful and whimsical Blue Fairy. Not only did she sing her songs well (such as the iconic “When You Wish Upon a Star,”) but I was also pleased with her acting performance. This young performer understood that her role was a little complex and that in some ways the Blue Fairy is one of the antagonists in the play. Adrie Twede was a nice Pinocchio, and I enjoyed her singing voice during “Geppetto and Son.” Her notes were clear and the tones were clean, which is not very common in child singers.
But, as in any youth productions, it’s the ensemble that is a bigger star than any one actor. As a whole, the ensemble was cute and charming. They sang with gusto, and their choreography (from Vicki Wartman and Trisha Wartman Duke) was sharp. I’m especially pleased that in “Toys” none of the dozens of children were looking at their feet at any point in the song.
I also liked the set (no designer credited in the program), which had a gorgeous clock tower, a creative inside of a whale, and a gorgeous home/workshop for Geppetto. Plus, the lighting (again, no designer credited) made the set almost glow in the first act and had included several fun lighting effects. Finally, Kim Ostler‘s costumes were delightful, especially the wooden arms and legs of Pinocchio and the clothes of the adults. I compliment technical director Spencer Bauman for overseeing these elements, but I wish that he had helped his technicians and actors execute faster scene changes.
When evaluating youth theatre productions, my number one requirement is that the experience should be beneficial for the young performers. After all, many of these productions exist more for the benefit of the kids than the audience or the adults on the production team. I think that Riverton Arts Council’s My Son Pinocchio met this criterion for success because the cast always looked like they were having fun while they were performing. This isn’t a perfect show. But it’s flaws (both those that I have mentioned and those that I haven’t) are irrelevant when compared to what these young performers get out of the experience of working on the show.