Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Valley Youth Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Passing Strange and Looking Over the President's Shoulder

Taylor Davis, Corey Hawk, and Zane Niezgodski
Photo by Skye Fallon / Valley Youth Theatre
From Into the Woods to Maleficent and "Once Upon a Time," the retelling, reimagining, and updating of famous fairy tales has proven perfect fodder for musicals, movies, and TV shows. Pinocchio, Greg Banks' fairly new theatrical adaptation of Carlo Collodi's story, is a faithful retelling of the story of carpenter Geppetto and the boy he creates out of wood. Banks uses a story-within-a-story structure and plenty of imagination to bring the magical, fun, and heartwarming story to life. Even though there are a few shortcomings in this adaptation, Valley Youth Theatre's production has a talented cast of young performers who instill the story with humor and heart.

In this adaptation, Banks takes a group of painters, who are in the theatre getting ready to paint it for an upcoming production, and turns them into storytellers who portray the characters in Collodi's children's novel "The Adventures of Pinocchio." They use the materials, equipment, and supplies they have on hand to paint the theatre to recreate the famous scenes and moments in this tale of a wooden puppet who dreams of becoming a real boy.

While Banks' adaptation does a good job of telling the story, the show does take a few extra beats to get going and also lags in points. There are also numerous moments of audience interaction that prolong the story and are repetitive. While some children may be restless at times, most younger audience members are sure to enjoy the creative touches the play and this production use to tell this beloved story. Even with the few quibbles, it is charming and funny, and the ending is moving and heartwarming.

Director Israel Jimenez uses the VYT stage well, bringing the cast out into the audience, which helps speed up scene changes and offers additional playing areas. Jimenez has also cast a talented group of kids to play the colorful characters. As Pinocchio, Corey Hawk does well as an obnoxious, rambunctious, and somewhat ungrateful boy. Yet, after Pinocchio takes the wrong path, Hawk effectively shows us how Pinocchio has learned his lesson and makes an optimistic change in his look on life. Taylor Davis is sturdy and strong as Gepetto. The fact that Davis is a woman adds another layer to the portrayal and shows that it doesn't matter what gender (or even age) one is—anyone can tell a story if they know what they are doing. Rachel Eroh and Zane Niezgodski are fun as the conniving Fox and the bumbling Cat, respectively; and Audra Hoover is appropriately matter of fact and determined as the painting foreman who decides to have her crew tell us the story of Pinocchio. When she also ends up playing the Fairy who helps Pinocchio she is witty and very funny.

Dori Brown's scenic design uses movable scaffolding, ladders, and other items to seamlessly and creatively transform the stage into the required locations for the story. Daniel Davisson's lighting shifts between the moods of the piece as well as time of day, and Karol Cooper's costumes include various fun, small touches to effectively equate the characters. While the sets, costumes, and props may not be realistic to the story, that's the point of this adaptation that any theatergoer, regardless of age, should be reminded of: it only takes the use of your imagination in order to create.

Valley Youth Theatre's Pinocchio uses everyday items and a small talented ensemble to create stage magic. While I have a few reservations about this adaptation, VYT's production proves to be a fun and upbeat exercise in the power of imagination in storytelling.

Pinocchio at Valley Youth Theatre runs through February 21st, 2016. The theatre is located at 525 North First Street in downtown Phoenix and ticket and performance information can be found at or by calling 602 253-8188.

Director: Israel Jimenez
Scenic Designer: Dori Brown
Costume Designer: Karol Cooper
Lighting Designer: Daniel Davisson
Production Stage Manager: Tiffany Owen

Cast: (in alphabetical order)
Hugo Crick-Furman: Coachman
Phoenix Cyphert: Judy
Taylor Davis: Gepetto
Rachel Eroh: Fox
Lily Gosar: Cricket
Corey Hawk: Pinocchio
Noah Heekin: Policeman, Old Man
Audra Hoover: Fairy
Alex Kirby: Lampwick
Karen Marroquin: Ticket seller, Inn Keeper
Zane Niezgodski: Cat
Zachary Snyders: Showman
Andy Wissink: Punch

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