by Matt Roberson · March 20, 2015
In an Introduction to a 2011 edition of Pinocchio, novelist John Boyne recalls being shocked by the “sinister feeling” running throughout Carlo Carllodi’s original story. Like me, his memory of the classic tale was shaped mostly by the Disney film of 1940. But in reading the story as intended, Boyne found something dark and, obviously, more exciting.
The musical version of Pinocchio now playing at New Victory also embraces the story’s dark parts, making for an exciting and interesting theatrical adventure for audiences of any age.
The plot is well-known: a puppet, crafted with love and precision by an old toy maker, finds himself alive and completely incapable of staying out of trouble. He’s disruptive at school, annoyingly selfish with his father, and an easy mark for Stromboli, this version’s only villain.
In a safer retelling, we could expect little more than a moralistic story about a kind but thoughtless wooden boy who outwits the silly bad man before learning a very valuable lesson. Luckily, Australia’s Windmill Theatre gives us much, much more.
In their hands, Pinocchio is the kind of child every parent prays they never have. Truly and totally awful. So why care what becomes of him? In this production, we care because of Geppetto, who is beautifully played by Alirio Zavarce as an almost-broken, almost-defeated dreamer. In Zavarce, we see a father’s pure love and devotion, which if broken by Pinocchio’s demise, would be tragic. This, at least for me, is what kept me rooting for the puppet.
My desire to see a father’s love ‘win’ was also aided by Paul Capsis’ evil Stromboli, whose slightly too-campy portrayal provides a real and, at times creepy, threat to the anticipated “happy ending.”
But let’s say you hate Pinocchio, children, and even Australia. Even you will come away amazed by the rich, psychedelic music, magical set, and impressive visual design that makes this show something special. Even as the story gets thin and a little lost in Act 2, I found that these equally important elements were enough to keep me around for the emotional and heartwarming finale.
A final thought: a lot of places in Times Square want the hard-earned dollars of this town’s parents. But in my experience, none are more deserving than New Victory Theater. In every way - from free lockers to affordable snacks to ushers who actually are “happy to help” - New Victory continues to reach beyond what is expected.