The wooden boy rocks out at the New Victory Theater.
Carlo Collodi's novel about a wooden boy whose nose grows when he tells a lie has spawned dozens of adaptations, Disney's 1940 animated film being one of the best known. Pinocchio, a new theatrical rock-and-roll version from Australia. has taken the stage at the New Victory Theater in a colorful, updated production with lively songs, flying motorcycles, and pop-culture references. Fans of the film might feel disoriented by this nontraditional retelling, and younger children may be startled by some of the loud music and strange characters, but kids 10 and up will likely get a kick out of this unusual staging.
In the Windmill Theatre/State Theatre Company of South Australia version, a fairy named Blue Girl (Danielle Catanzariti) crashes her motorcycle into a tree, thus imbuing it with magic. Toymaker Geppetto (Alirio Zavarce) then carves the tree into a wooden boy, who comes to life, and names him Pinocchio. A chronic liar, Pinocchio (Nathan O'Keefe) gets kicked out of school and runs away, meeting with fame-hungry posers Foxy (Mitchell Butel) and Kitty Poo (Jude Henshall). Arrogant Pinocchio soon falls under the influence of the evil Stromboli (Paul Capsis), who makes the "boy toy" into a materialistic star, but a moralizing Cricket (Jonathon Oxlade) shows the wayward puppet that love is more important than the phony world of glitz and glam. Only then can he become a real boy.
Rosemary Myers directs this energetic Pinocchio with a sharp instinct for entertaining the eye and the ear. Oxlade's brilliant rotating set (shaped like a large tree trunk that later becomes a huge fish), together with Geoff Cobham's lighting and Chris More's innovative video design (lively animated projections onto Oxlade's set quickly shift the scenes), keeps the show visually stimulating. Composer Jethro Woodward has created a catchy score complete with heart-pounding numbers, such as the nonsense song that rebellious Pinocchio sings at school, "I Know," and the acute condemnation of fame and superficiality, "Sign Here," which makes a gross (and failed) attempt at potty humor.
Comical moments, unfortunately, don't always land with a laugh. Writer Julianne O'Brien includes some groan-inducing jokes that, at the performance I attended, left many young audience members bemused rather than tickled. The multitalented Oxlade does a good job of engaging kids as he projects his high-pitched voice onto the Cricket puppet, which he makes believably soar across the stage in his hands. Not quite as effective is the flamboyant and shrill Capsis as Stromboli, who leaps, spins, and shrieks maniacally like a clown-faced Norma Desmond. At two hours long, this production could have pruned some of its less successful shenanigans without detriment.
As Pinocchio, O'Keefe gives an energetic performance that children will likely find entertaining, and his extendable prosthetic nose adds to the fun. Zavarce deserves mention as Pinocchio's elderly father, who poignantly sings the opening song of longing and loneliness, "Hole in Your Heart." Grown-ups may find this version of the beloved classic a bit too distant from both the original novel and the film to fill the holes in their own nostalgic hearts, but kids may find the loud music and extravagance a little more on the nose.