It's December, and time for the Bergen County Players to present its annual children's production. And this year, they went to the Prince Street Players, whose Jim Eiler & Jeanne Bargy created 11 musical plays with full family appeal. Pinocchio, the story of a puppet who goes through an odyssey to become a real boy, was one of their earliest efforts, written at the height of their creativity, and certainly qualifies as one of their best efforts. And, in the able hands of the Bergen County Players, it becomes a wonderful experience for parents and children alike.
For those who are not familiar with the story, it is about how Geppetto, a kindly but poor puppet maker from a small Italian village, creates a puppet the size of a real little boy, naming it Pinocchio, and wishing that it was a real boy. A good fairy, impressed by his big heart, grants his wish and brings the puppet to life. However, to complete the transformation and become a real little boy instead of a living puppet, Pinocchio must earn it through good behavior. Pinocchio, being new to the world, starts out as naive, selfish and impetuous, and unprepared to those who would take advantage of that nature. He therefore has to go through a series of mistakes before he learns his lesson, and earns his humanity. The depiction of a fantasy parallel to the psychological journey that all children must go through in becoming adults, is the key to the story's appeal through the ages.
The current production, done as a musical with the songs seamlessly fitting into the plot, reduces the rather epic (for children) story to a manageable level, concentrating on only a few of Pinocchio's more colorful travails, notably his seduction into the Land of the Toys, being conned by the Fox and the Cat, and meeting his adopted father once again in the belly of a whale.
The production emphasizes the Italian nature of the story, and even gives the children in the audience a few Italian words to learn. It is narrated by Antonio, the town carpenter, played by Bergen County Players mainstay Rob Kopil, who expertly creates a rapport with the audience. Newcomer to the Players, but hardly to acting, Bill Powers does an especially good job at bringing out the sweet and caring nature of Geppetto. Noteworthy are Edie Orlando and Randi Kestin as Candlewick and Gino, who also lending some subtle harmony to the ensemble vocals, Leslie Cohn as Angelina, Geppetto's cheerful housekeeper, Daniel Reed as the appropriately evil Coachman, Bridget Duffy, as the sly Signore Volpone (and the Balloon Seller), and children's production regular (and Players regular in general) Rosella DeVincenzo repeating her role as the impetuous Signore Gatto. But the director, Terri Caust, must be congratulated, as she succeeded in getting the cast to come together, in her words, as a "singing, dancing, unit".
The shining star of the play is young Vivi Aiello, in the title role of Pinocchio, who has singing, dancing and acting (not to mention ukulele and a bit of stage magic in the famous nose growing scene) skills that belie her youth. She has the difficult task of carrying the whole play for 5 performances every weekend, and does so in a way that appears to be effortless. Expect to hear a lot more about her in the future, should she choose to pursue the stage as a career.
On the technical side, Steve Bell does his usual exemplary job as music director; also, with his keyboard and Dan DiStefano's percussion, they give the illusion of a somewhat larger combo complementing the excellent singing skills of the cast. Ron Drobes and Lauren Zenreich make full use of the stage with their sets and decor, particularly in the Land of the Toys (with Duncan Bell of Look Alive Window Shows providing design and equipment for a roller coaster animation, and Jennie Marino providing the conceptual design for a whale on the stage).
The play is suitable for children in the 6-12 age group; older teens with an interest in the performing arts would enjoy seeing the stagecraft. There is a "meet the cast" get-together downstairs after the show, where cast members are on hand to talk to visitors and to give autographs (a space for them is provided in the program). The show is a must-see for the kids; get tickets before they're sold out!
TICKET AND SCHEDULE INFORMATION
- All performances of "Pinocchio" take place at The Little Firehouse Theatre at 298 Kinderkamack Road in Oradell, home to the Bergen County Players since 1949. Performance times are Fridays at 7:30 pm, and Saturdays and Sundays at 1pm & 3:30 pm.
- Tickets for "Pinocchio" are $14 for all performances, and can be purchased online at www.bcplayers.org, by calling 201-261-4200 or by visiting the box office at 298 Kinderkamack Road in Oradell during regular box office hours. Visa, Master Card, and American Express are accepted.
- Those interested in Group Sales of 20 or more tickets can call 201-261-4200, x6.
- All patrons entering the theatre, including infants and small children, must have a ticket, even if the child shares a seat with a parent.
- A limited number of booster seats are available upon request and are provided at no charge.
- Parking is free at the Park Avenue municipal lot, across the street, one-half block north of the theater.