The Glendale Centre Theatre, with its lushly carpeted lobby, wood paneling and steeply beveled red seats, is attractive. Its production of "Pinocchio," is less so.
Tad Allyn Doyle's new musical version of Carlo Collodi's classic may contain elements that make good children's theater (audience participation, colorful costumes, humor and upbeat music to keep things moving), but the end result here is empty formula.
The music, played by Piano Lady Karen Peterson, is cheerful enough. Sets are at a minimum. Costumes, credited to Marguerite Topping, Doyle and Debbie La Franchi, owe much of their inspiration to Walt Disney, as does the general tenor of the production.
Innovations include replacing Jiminy Cricket with a canine named Smudge (Noreen Reardon, in a large dog suit).
The Blue Fairy has become a rotund, wisecracking Fairy Blue (Patrika Darbo), with a full complement of "fat" jokes ("I'd fly but I've only passed my elementary level--it takes a lot to get me off the ground").
The most enjoyable aspect of the show is audience involvement. Children help Pinocchio escape from evil puppeteer Papa Lasanga (Doyle) by counting to 10; they call Fairy Blue when Pinocchio is in distress; and some find themselves in the whale's stomach, racing around in circles to make him burp up the captives.
Rather than a naive little chucklehead who doesn't mean to be mischievous, this Pinocchio (Carl Steven Krakoff) seems to deserve trouble. An unpleasant moment has him rejecting the faithful Smudge with a well-placed kick.
Darbo's Fairy Blue brings a certain life to the show with her ad-libs to the audience. But when she delivers moral lessons to Pinocchio, she doesn't seem to care if he, or we, get the message.
And that's the problem.
Cast members say lines and hit marks with no sense that they believe in themselves, let alone one another. (Two exceptions are George Strattan as the Fox--he also directs the show--and Dylan Kussman as bad boy Lampwick.)
As a lively, and superficial, afternoon's entertainment for small children, "Pinocchio" may work for some. It's the heart that's lacking.
"Pinocchio" plays Saturdays, 2 p.m. at 324 N. Orange St. in Glendale, (818) 244-8481.