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Children’s Theater Review : Delivering a Polished ‘Pinocchio,’ Splinters and All

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Have you noticed that the heroes in Disney’s recent animated films have more human foibles than the ones you grew up with?

In “The Lion King,” Simba brags about his royal lineage but wimps out when it’s time to assume the crown. And “The Little Mermaid” is a flighty thing--one look at some studly biped and all her dad’s sage advice floats clean out of her head.

Compare this to Disney’s take on Carlo Collodi’s “Pinocchio” in 1940: The title character, rascally and occasionally mean-spirited in the original story, was presented as a real pussycat--sweet, naive and about as wily as an altar boy at High Mass.

If you prefer a “Pinocchio” with more sass, there’s good news waiting at The City shopping center where Broadway on Tour is staging a version that re-creates some of the book’s spice and humor by allowing the wooden boy’s rough spots to shine through and adds some twists. Adapted by John Baldwin Jr. and directed by Rhesa Cassaday, “Pinocchio” continues Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. through Oct. 30.

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As played by Lisa Stier, this Pinocchio is what grandparents diplomatically call “a pistol.” Opinionated and self-centered, he already has developed quite a ‘tude by the time the audience meets up with him in Mastroni’s traveling puppet show. Unfortunately, he is no great talent, and when Mastroni threatens to turn him into kindling for messing up the show, he gets some help from good fairy Glissandra, who finds a haven for him in Geppetto’s toy shop.

Pinocchio is a bit of a snob, though, and he turns up his nose (which, as you may recall, can be a pretty big job) at old Geppetto’s poverty. He also is a lousy judge of character--an easy mark for Contessa the Cat and Dutchess the Fox, a pair of smooth-talking swindlers hired by Mastroni to bring him back. It’s not until Geppetto is swallowed by a whale while searching for Pinocchio that the wayward lad vows to straighten up, and, after an unfortunate detour to Pleasure Island, he rescues the old man and earns his stripes as a real boy.

“Pinocchio’s” dialogue is peppered with smart quips and contemporary humor, and, overall, Cassaday’s 8- to 16-year-old cast members are quick and witty. Even the secondary roles are not short on laughs. Christina Davidson and Daina Baker are splendid playing the fox and cat as dainty, down-at-the-heels Southern belles. Mel Besaw as Glissandra and Garret Baker as Geppetto wisely play it straight, providing good foils for Pinocchio’s humor (though it would be nice to see some of the peevishness Geppetto has in the original story. Who wouldn’t be cranky dealing with this kid?)

Slender and light on her feet, Lisa Stier makes a fine puppet boy, tackling each setback in the story with the external cockiness of adolescence.

Cassaday did take a wrong turn in her attempts to beef up at least one minor role, when she allowed one of Glissandra’s lieutenant fairies to add some Steve Urkel-style snorts and mannerisms. The bits are funny but distracting, and the character upstages Besaw’s sweet-as-pie Glissandra at several points.

Marsha Gillespie’s costumes are colorful and inventive, and the live piano music by Ann Geib is a nice touch, made better by some tongue-in-cheek musical jabs at the old Disney scores.

* “Pinocchio,” Broadway on Tour, The City Shopping Center, 20 City Drive, Suite 138, Orange. Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Ends Oct. 30. $5. (714) 385-1555. Running time: 1 hour.

Jennifer Robinson: Spruce/Candlewick

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Wendy Holden: Maple Carlotta/Policeman

Lowell Davison Apple/Tony/Donkey

Julie Holden: Walnut/Mario/Donkey

Mel Besaw: Glissandra

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Jeff Dodge: Mastroni

Lisa Stier: Pinocchio

Garret Baker: Geppetto/Coachman

Christina Davidson: Fox

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Daina Baker: Cat

A presentation of Broadway on Tour, adapted by John Baldwin Jr. from the story by Carlo Collodi, produced by Laurie Holden, directed by Rhesa Cassaday. Choreography: Robin Perry-Winters. Set: Linda and Clay Davison and Lewie Stier. Costumes: Marsha Gillespie. Lights: Lewie Stier and Laurie Holden.


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