There’s something about a precocious wooden puppet yearning to be a real boy that touches the heartstrings no matter how many times you see it. In The Adventures of Pinocchio/Las Aventuras de Pinocho, Creative Cauldron ratchets up the motivation to catch yet another Pinocchio experience thanks to the exuberant energy of a massive young cast, a bilingual approach to the script, and spectacular designer collaboration.
Even before the family-friendly show opens and patrons are being seated, some of the “puppet” cast members are already on stage, practicing their marionette moves together, arms dangling as if pulled by strings, jostling each other in play. The sequence sets the tone of playfulness that permeates the entire show.
The major characters are beautifully cast. June Tuss is a standout as the puppet Pinocchio, jumping about with energy when getting into mischief, trying so hard to be good, and failing adorably every single time. E. Augustus (Gus) Knapp is the whiskered Poppa Gepetto, patiently tending to Pinocchio’s every wish with the gaze of a loving grampa. Marie Solander playing Pinocchio as a real boy leads us through the scenes and ponders his own mishaps at every turn.
The adventures begin with a nightmare when Pinocchio as a boy relives the trials, mishaps, and wrong decisions he made as a puppet. With the help of the full ensemble, we see the puppet boy’s total disregard for rules of decorum or care. He upsets the carts and laughingly disrupts the household of the loving Gepetto. When the puppet longs for spelling books for school, Gepetto secures them by trading in his threadbare coat for the necessary funds and doesn’t mind shivering in the cold. Pinocchio appreciates the books for a hot minute before losing them in pursuit of something else entirely. The same with valuable coins that Gepetto entrusts to Pinocchio for their sustenance and survival. When schemers convince the trusting puppet that burying them in a special plot will cause them to exponentially replicate, he can’t seem to help himself and goes along.
Time after time, Pinocchio heeds the crafty beautifully costumed conniving creatures — cat and fox, weasels. Whenever anyone offers him a deal too good to be true, and the other puppet characters on the sidelines (and in the audience) warn him repeatedly to stay the course and not to succumb, he almost can’t help himself and makes the wrong choice, every single time as we all groan with loving disappointment.
Watching the life lessons take their toll on Pinocchio reminds us how easily it is to get duped, and we can shake our heads and tsk-tsk at his folly while gently remembering our own. When Pinocchio hits his lowest point after lies elongate his nose, he finds himself part of a drudgery team of donkeys and is even swallowed by a shark. With the help of a beautiful Lenny Mendez as the Blue Fairy (oh, how we could use one of those every now and then), he learns his lessons, awakens from his nightmare, and appreciates being a real boy.
How the co-directors wrangle nearly 30 young cast members to hit their marks with full-throttle energy while singing up a storm and committing to their characters is beyond me. It might be like making sausage — we don’t want to see how it’s done but the end product is delicious. That’s what I witnessed in the Creative Cauldron experience — helping youngsters commit to their characters like pros and stay in character while having a blast telling the story resulting in big fun where everybody wins.
Margie Jervis works her magic in creating costumes and even animal-style heads of a falcon, poodle, crow, and owl, probably my favorite with spectacular feathers covering a cape. The handiwork continues with Diana Alison as a slow-moving snail under a spiral shell. James Morrison lights the stage with twinkles and incredible projections that flow and transport through the various settings with ease. Masterful collaborators Matt Conner (music) and Stephen Gregory Smith (lyrics) created just the handful of songs needed to fit the huge ensemble, and the singers perform them with glee. The finale, “Who We’re Meant to Be,” is tender and memorable, easily hummable on the way home.
Along with playing the beautiful Blue Fairy, co-director Lenny Mendez is the company’s bilingual artistic associate adding words and phrases to bring Spanish into the realm of the production and audience appreciation. It’s a remarkable intent and accomplishment.
The Adventures of Pinocchio/Las Aventuras de Pinocho at Creative Cauldron is a wildly entertaining, inclusive, and immersive approach to theater suitable for one and all.
Running time: 60 Minutes with no intermission.
The Adventures of Pinocchio/Las Aventuras de Pinocho plays through November 19, 2023 at Creative Cauldron, 410 South Maple Avenue, Retail 116, Falls Church, VA. Performances are on Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Purchase tickets ($20 adults, $18 students, $65 family four-pack) online or by calling 703-436-9948.
The program for The Adventures of Pinocchio/Las Aventuras de Pinocho is online here.
COVID Safety: Creative Cauldron is a mask-optional environment. Creative Cauldron’s COVID-19 Theater Protocol is available here.
The Adventures of Pinocchio/Las Aventuras de Pinocho
A Learning Theater Production
Music by Matt Conner
Lyrics by Stephen Gregory Smith
Directed by Laura Connors Hull, Lenny Mendez, and Matt Conner
Scenic and Costume Design: Margie Jervis
Lighting and Projections Design: James Morrison
Stage Manager: Nicholas J. Goodman
June Tuss (Pinocchio Puppet)
Marie Solander (Pinocchio Boy)
Augustus (Gus) Knapp (Gepetto)
Lenny Mendez (Blue Fairy)
The Learning Theater Ensemble