Pinocchio: English Christmas panto returns to Centerstage
November 15, 2011 · Updated 2:44 PM
Courtesy of Centerstage Theatre:
“Once upon a time, there was ... ‘a king!’ my little readers will say right away. No, children, you are wrong. Once upon a time there was a piece of wood.”
Thus begins “The Adventures of Pinocchio,” starring a long-nosed puppet who is one of the world’s most recognizable characters since his creation more than a century ago by the Tuscan writer Carlo Lorenzini, known as Collodi.
The beloved story of Pinocchio has entertained generations of children around the world. It has also provided fuel for many writers of adult fiction and has been the inspiration for cinematic references that are instantly recognizable more than 100 years since Collodi first created the puppet.
A contemporary archetype, the long-nosed, not quite human boy figure has entered into global popular culture as well as into literary high culture, most visibly in his homeland, but also in the United States and elsewhere.
While there is a world of critical analysis to explain the underlying meaning of Pinocchio, Centerstage Theatre in Federal Way has not concerned itself with the undoubted complexities of the tale and has adapted the story in the style of the traditional English Christmas pantomime.
Assigned the task of creating this new version was John Forster, an award-winning songwriter and humorist whose work encompasses the worlds of musical theater and children’s entertainment.
What is a traditional English Christmas pantomime? Most Americans will take it to be something silent, but this kind of pantomime is anything but silent. It’s loud, boisterous and full of music, ridiculous humor and traditions almost as old as theatre itself.
In the early 1700s, some commedia-inspired entertainments were silent performances. In a reverse of Shakespearean tradition, the “dumb show” was preceded by a spoken synopsis. Alert producers observed that audiences preferred the spoken word, so the dumb shows were eliminated but the entertainments retained the name. For most Brits, a visit to the local theatre to see the pantomime is as much part of Christmas as turkey is to an American’s Thanksgiving.
What is particularly appealing to the Brits — and now to Federal Way audiences — are the time-honored traditions of “panto.”
In Victorian Theatre, women were prohibited from baring their legs onstage. Artful producers contrived the ruse of casting an attractive young woman as the male hero. The Principal Boy was dressed in short skirts and tights so that male audience members were treated to her comely, but otherwise illegal gams.
Audience participation is probably the best-known pantomime tradition. The audience is actively encouraged to boo the villain whenever he enters, argue with the dame, and warn the “good” characters when the villain is in the vicinity.
Check it out
“Pinocchio” runs Nov. 26 to Dec. 23 at the Knutzen Family Theatre. The show features Daniel Goodman as the puppet with a lot to learn, Roger Curtis, Sonya Meyer, Hannah Mootz and Meg McLynn as the Blue Fairy. The show is directed by Vanessa Miller, whose credits include Seattle Shakespeare Company and the Village theatre. Music direction is by David Duvall, choreography by Eia Waltzer and set by Sarah Sugarbaker.
Tickets for all 12 performances are available by phone at (253) 661-1444, online at www.centerstagetheatre.com, and in person at the Knutzen box office, 3200 SW Dash Point Road. Single tickets are $27.50 for adults; $22.50 for seniors, military, students 18 and over with ID; and $12.50 for youth 17 and under. $18 tickets are available for groups of 10 or more.