Puppetry as a family affair takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to the Pipers in this historical rendition of Pinocchio, the boy puppet who yearns to be a real boy. This version remounts the story as well as the actual puppets created fifty years ago by Leonard Piper, Christopher Piper’s Dad, who though long retired is only a telephone call away to add some special handiwork to this gem of a show.
You can feel the legacy and poignancy throughout –these puppets have a backstory and have entertained generations of families. They have a classic look and feel in the cut, weight and shape of the wood, movement of the segmented parts and facial expressions unlike anything you’ll see in modern cookie-cutter productions. Using an actual person, master puppeteer, Allan Stevens, as Gepetto the woodcarver adds a special touch, bringing the tale even closer to home and reality.
The scene opens with Gepetto tenderly holding a wooden log longing for a boy he can call his own. His tender affection for Pinocchio is evident from the beginning and grows stronger no matter what escapades the puppet boy gets into, and he gets into some doozies.
From the onset, Pinocchio makes it clear that he wants what he wants when he wants it and could care less about the impact on others. The vocals by Joshua Aaron Rosenblum are particularly effective in portraying a bratty self-centered, belligerent and inconsiderate fellow who has no regard for anyone but himself.
Instead of getting the multiple time-outs that he deserves, he takes advantage of the aging woodcarver’s kindness and affection. Gepetto adores the selfish youngster puppet, and even sells his only coat to secure school books for the wooden lad. Not that Pinocchio has any interest in actually learning anything. He’s really just mimicking what real boys do, so he insists on going through the motions to get what he wants no matter who he hurts along the way.
As can be imagined, Pinocchio has some serious lessons to learn about making good choices, caring for others, and the importance of love. A dapperly dressed sly fox lures the boy into harm’s way, even selling him to a traveling show. After a harrowing escape, Pinocchio appears to have a change in heart and sets off towards home only to be distracted by a lad heading to a carnival land where they can play all day, eat candy to their heart’s content and ride roller coasters —ahh, now – that’s Pinocchio’s idea of a perfect life, right?
So off he goes and learns the hard way that chasing a frivolous carefree life flips over to reveal hardship and deceit underneath. He even sprouts donkey ears and a tail as a consequence. The characters are so well developed that their lessons touch our hearts as Pinocchio slowly learns what’s truly important in life.
The set accommodates all the action and (multi-sized performers), consisting of an earth-toned cottage with oval door passages and even decorative lamps on the side. The projections in the middle enhance the experience with colorful scenes including a mesmerizing underwater sequence with beautiful aqua marine foliage as a backdrop for the creative radiant schools of fish that swim and sway in athletic unison. There’s even a bit of jousting to the delight of the kiddies when the swordfish aggressively clack at each other, matched only by the fun of the jellyfish swishing with unbelievable delicacy and grace as they flutter by.
MayField Piper faithfully recreated the costumes from Christopher’s Mom’s original designs for a complete family experience that lives on. That kind of attention to detail elevates the production to a one of a kind experience– yes, it’s that good.
Humiliated and dejected, Pinocchio learns that Gepetto had a mishap while searching for him along the shoreline. He’s been swallowed by a whale and is a gonner for sure. Who’s there to help him? Surely not the self-centered puppet boy he created. Has Pinocchio developed enough compassion to risk his life to save his Dad?
Families sat in rapt attention watching the ageless story unfold –we know what’s going to happen, but there is still magic in that touching moment when Gepetto caries the seemly lifeless body of his precious boy in his arms. Come to the show and see for yourself how life lessons, a wise old cricket and gorgeous blue fairy, help a puppet boy spring to life in this legendary production, Len Piper’s Pinocchio.
Len Piper’s Pinocchio . script adapted from the Carlo Collodi book by Leonard Piper . Cast: Elizabeth Dapo, Christopher Piper, Joshua Aaron Rosenblum, Allan Stevens . Puppets by Leonard Piper . Costume Re-creation from Patricia Piper’s Original Design by MayField Piper . New costume and Set Design, and Directed by Allan Stevens . Set Construction: Eric Books . Puppet Master/Video Animation—Christopher Piper . Produced by The Puppet Co . Reviewed by Debby Jackson.