It turns out the Blue Fairy is a no-nonsense kind of fairy. You ask for something, and it’s yours. She’s beautiful, too—exactly what you expect a fairy to look like with long curls and dressed in a lacy, sparkly gown with gossamer wings. Here’s what you may not have known about her: When she sings, it gives you goose bumps, and she has a feisty side.
Ashley Arnold brings the Blue Fairy to life in Disney’s My Son Pinocchio, presented by Casa Mañana Children’s Theatre. She glides onto the stage and sets the tone for the familiar tale of Pinocchio, the wooden boy who wanted to be real, with a flawless "When You Wish Upon a Star," the timeless Disney classic.
This particular version of Pinocchio’s story is told from the point of view of Geppetto, the wooden boy’s maker and father. David Stern (book) and Stephen Schwartz (music and lyrics) originally created the piece as Disney’s Geppetto, a made-for-TV movie in 2000, starring Drew Carey as Geppetto, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss as the Blue Fairy and Brent Spiner as Stromboli. Schwartz, best known for his musicals Godspell and Wicked, added new songs to the two that were in the 1940 Disney cartoon version of Pinocchio, “When You Wish Upon a Star” and “I’ve Got No Strings.” Stern and Schwartz adapted the film version to the stage, and it became Disney’s Geppetto & Son, which is how it premiered in 2006 at the Coterie Theater in Kansas City, Mo.
After a Google search, it’s still not clear why the show changed its name again to Disney’s My Son Pinocchio, but that’s the name of the show on the Casa Mañana stage, directed by Joe Sturgeon with musical direction by Michael Plantz.
The story begins with Geppetto asking the Blue Fairy to take Pinocchio back because he’s defective, which she takes offensive to because, after all, her wish-granting record is perfect. Even though this version is told from Geppetto’s perspective, we still follow the familiar tale of Pinocchio’s adventures as he runs away from home and captured by the snake oil salesman of a puppet master, Stromboli, lured to Pleasure Island by Fox and Cat and the ne’er-do-well Lampwick, and washes up in the belly of a whale with Geppetto.
As Geppetto, Doug Lopachin, is not so much kindly and old as he is irritable, a little whiny and prone to temper tantrums. But in his quest to be a real dad to a real boy, he finds his fatherly side just in time for a sincere and sentimental “Since I Gave My Heart Away.”
Cooper Rodgers as Pinocchio is magical. The children in the opening night audience on Friday were mesmerized whenever he was onstage. Thanks to Tammy Spencer’s costuming, Rodgers looks like the real deal, like Pinocchio was leapt off the screen or off the pages of the book in bright colors and a big red bow tie. Pinocchio’s other talents don’t disappoint either, whether he’s singing “I’ve Got No Strings” or telling something that’s short on truth, but plain as the nose on his face.
As Fox and Cat, Greg Dulcie and Aubrey Adams give the show a shot of cartoon-like adrenaline and animation.
Christopher Deaton has great fun and bravado with Stromboli. He’s a walking Italian caricature with a show-stopping voice on “Bravo Stromboli.” Deaton and one of Stromboli’s puppets, Frank (short for Frankincense), almost walk away with the show with their clever bits and interactions.
There are some confusing elements in the staging. For instance, why does the Blue Fairy sing her opening number into an old radio broadcast microphone that she never uses again? Why does Geppetto ride a skateboard with plastic wheels in his quaint old toy shop? Why can’t the fairy just magically transport us back and forth in time without trotting out a “time machine” made up of children? And why do we need a light-up applause sign at all? Flashing it on during Arnold’s “When You Wish Upon a Star” interrupted her magical number unnecessarily.
If you’re not one to sweat the small stuff, there is more than enough to like about Disney’s My Son Pinocchio. The strong performances are enhanced by a charming toy shop set designed by Mark Halpin that makes the transformation to Stromboli’s, Pleasure Island and even the whale’s belly easily and believably. Sam Rushen adds lighting that evokes the dazzle audiences expect any time Disney’s name is on a production.
Even with the story shifted to Geppetto’s perspective, the kids will recognize it as the story of Pinocchio, who wanted desperately to be a real, live boy. They will delight in the characters and relish the magic of a Disney tale. There’s only one major character missing, Pinocchio’s conscience, Jiminy Cricket. Let’s just say he makes a cameo appearance and leave it at that.