PLAY REVIEW /// ‘My Son Pinocchio Jr.’
Allwayz On Stage delivered a heartwarming theater experience earlier this month when it presented its latest production at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts.The company, launched a year ago by Laurie Johnson and Tracy Costanzo, offers stage opportunities for young adults ages 16 and over with special needs. Johnson and Costanzo’s daughters, Breezy and Samantha (Sammy), who have been friends since kindergarten, regularly put on shows in their backyards. But with last year’s successful “Beauty and the Beast,” their personal fairy tales came true as they starred in the fully staged production, complete with sets, costumes, music and choreography.
Now 25 and 24, respectively, the pals headlined the cast in the company’s second production, “My Son Pinocchio Jr.,” which had a three-day run ending on Aug. 13.
“My Son Pinocchio” was penned by screenwriter David I. Stern, the adaptation based on the Disney live-action TV movie “Geppetto.” The score has new songs by Stephen Schwartz (“Wicked,” “Pippin”) and two numbers (“When You Wish Upon a Star” and “I’ve Got No Strings”) from the legendary 1940 animated Disney film, “Pinocchio.”
As they did last year, Johnson (director) and Costanzo (choreography) joined forces to stage the show, with their daughters playing the principal roles: Breezy as Geppetto and Sammy as Pinocchio.
The production traces the familiar story from Geppetto’s perspective, beginning when Pinocchio becomes a real boy and taking us through flashbacks. To Geppetto’s dismay, Pinocchio engages in behavior not unlike that of real live boys: He’s incorrigible and uncooperative, leading Geppetto to call the Blue Fairy and ask for a refund on his wish, claiming Pinocchio is defective.
Breezy and Sammy’s friendship is palpable, even when they are disguised by wigs and makeup. It was evident they heartily enjoyed the whimsical dialogue during their scenes together: Geppetto: “Did you sleep well?” Pinocchio: “I slept like a log!” Geppetto: “You are a log!”
The Blue Fairy (played by Abigail Arnal) is one of two characters from the fable whose roles are expanded. Stromboli, the bombastic carnival owner and puppeteer (played by one of the company’s many adult mentors, Ben Deschaine, who also built the set), is the other. The Blue Fairy heads up a school of fairies in training (Brooke Baldauf, Amanda Counts, Erin Schleich and Megan Tresback), boasting about her “perfect record” of successfully granting wishes.
Allwayz On Stage also provides initial acting opportunities for younger performers, and the show featured debuts by Isla Burditt, Owen Sayles, and sisters Siena and Eden Judovits.
Eden, the smallest of the newcomers, was adorable as well as adept as she sang on key, nailed her lines and executed her dance moves with the rest of the cast. (The sisters were joined onstage by their parents, Danielle and Kevin, who played ensemble roles.)
The Allwayz On Stage mentors are professionals who’ve been working with the challenged actors since April. Onstage, many serve as guiding partners to make sure the special needs actors hit their marks and prompt them if they forget a line. The latter instances were few and far between, as everyone performed admirably and professionally, encouraged by the enthusiastic audience.
Of special note in the cast are mentors Julia Marley, a Cabrillo Music Theatre performer, and Ezra Shipin, an accomplished dancer who choreographed her own stunning ballet tableau during the song “Geppetto and Son.”
Others included Emalee Burditt, Katie Gill, Chrys Ryan Johnson, Meghan Pool and Ryan Satterfield, who played Professore Buonragazzo, inventor of the “perfect child” machine, which produces “Body Snatcher”-like obedient children. Hmm. Not a bad idea.