“The Adventures of Pinocchio” presented by Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Despite how much I love living in Chicago, I certainly don’t love Chicago landmark and tourist trap Navy Pier. It’s always crowded, getting there is far too difficult no matter which way you choose, and really I don’t think there’s much great or interesting about it. (It’s hardly the only place you can get a t-shirt that says “Chicago”, a dreamcatcher, a beer, or some ice cream, you know?)
I kicked this review off that way so you’ll understand my love for one thing about Navy Pier: Chicago Shakespeare Theater, the regional theater that’s an established part of Navy Pier. Known for classy productions of great works – Shakespeare or not – I’ve never been disappointed by a show I’ve seen there. Even though it’s located smack dab in the middle of Navy Pier, I will venture to CST.
So when my dear friend Robert (of ChicagoTheatreAddict) invited me along to catch their summer production of “The Adventures of Pinocchio,” I happily said yes.
Lit-wise, the story of “Pinocchio” has been around forever. There are countless written versions, film versions, musicals, ice spectaculars, and toys all over the world. Simply, everyone knows the story of the little wooden puppet who – on a quest to become a real boy – winds up a star, then tricked by a Cat and Fox, then runs to an island just for boys, and in the stomach of a whale before learning a lesson and getting to go home and become a real boy. Pinocchio first appeared in 1883, in “The Adventures of Pinocchio” by Carlo Collodi, who didn’t intend the work to become a childrens classic. In the actual first edition, Pinocchio gets hung for his actions. Realizing this was too harsh, Collodi added more text, and had the Blue Fairy show up to save him. The Disney film version (which is a little creepy, no lie) is possibly one of the best-known pieces of pop culture around. Find someone who doesn’t know who Jiminy Cricket is, or who can’t hum “I’ve got no strings.” I dare you.
There’s no Jiminy Cricket here, though. The Chicago Shakespeare Theater production of this tale is a world premiere musical, written/composed by Neil Bartram and Brian Hill, who penned the Broadway musical “The Story of My Life.” Told in a visually lovely style reminiscent more of old storybooks than flashy, typical kids fare, the story is all about the choices we make. Pinocchio messes up a number of choices, and it leads him down a less-than-happy path. There may be an issue with the sound system, as several times I couldn’t make out the lyrics that were being sung, but overall I got the gist.
Directed by Rachel Rockwell, the 90 minute show is snappy and keeps on moving. The cast is energetic and lively, especially Skyler Adams as Pinocchio, who’s a bundle of jumpy energy. Heidi Kettenring and Derek Hasenstab are scene-stealers as Cat and Fox, and Melody Betts gets some lovely moments as “The Blue Lady.”
The theater was largely packed with parents and children seeing the show. Though the parents all looked enchanted, several of the younger kids looked a little confused and lost some interest, so if your kids are really young (maybe under 5 or 6) I’d probably point you in another direction. This isn’t a flashy Disney show – there are ballads and poignant moments that might fly over the littlest heads, and lead to some boredom. That said, the older kids around me seemed to get and appreciate it.
“The Adventures of Pinocchio” plays until August 28th. It’s charming and sweet and a nice reminder of why this tale remains relevant.