The Ghent Playhouse’s “Pinocchio” is Great Holiday Fun…No Lie!
The Pantoloons make merry mischief at GPH with the wooden toy “Pinocchio” who wants to be a real live boy.
For nearly 20 years, the Pantoloons have been creating Pantos at the Ghent Playhouse. Panthos has a simple formula: they take a children’s tale and inject topical humor (frequently political or bawdy), have a small cast playing gender switched roles, do song parodies using popular music with twisted lyrics and encourage audience participation, and coach the crowd to cheer the heroes and boo and hiss the villains.
It’s all played on ingenious, attractive sets (designed by Sam Reilly who also plays Can Can Candy) made out of cardboard and artfully painted with the action occasionally spilling off the stage and chasing itself around the auditorium. There are always bright, whack a doo costumes (designed by Joanne Maurer who also plays Jiminy Cricket) that take a primary paintbrush to archetypal fairy tale wear. The whole thing is written by the director, Cathy Lee-Visscher (playing Honest Don the fox as well as others), the group supplies lyrics and the music direction is by Catherine Schane-Lydon (who has been recruited to play more characters than ever-Rodolpho Giuliani, among others). All four names listed above are joined by Mark Wilson who plays Gepetto, Sally McCarthy as Pinocchio, and the invaluable scene stealer Monk Schane-Lydon, who leaves his blue mark on everything as The Blue Fairy.
Jiminy is our guide as well as the puppet’s conscience. We open on Gepetto in his workshop fashioning a toy out of a hunk of wood. The transformation into Pinocchio is nicely done, and more importantly the block of wood sets up the evening’s long list of wood jokes. The wood giggles? It’s “teak-a-lish.” Quickly, Monk comes bouncing in as the Blue Fairy, all wings, tulle and toe shoes. Gepetto gives Pinocchio money for school supplies and he heads to town running into Honest Don, another costume highlight as an orange fox and his associate Giuliani in a Yankees cap (that hurts!). The two look to fleece the boy and all he wants is to buy their books for school.
Jr. Eric and Jr. lead our hero to Pleasure Island where boys turn into donkeys while doing laps around the theater. Pinocchio saves his adoptive father from the whale, Monstro, and all is set right. Somewhere Can Can Candy, the stuttering western showgirl figures into the adventure as well but rest assured, all is set right.
The song parodies lean heavier on the Broadway songbook than past seasons, it seems to me, and some of the parodies are not that far off their source material. “Great Pals” in place of “Friendship” from “Anything Goes” really stood out as an example of this.
The slapdash, improvisatory nature of the show provides opportunities for winks at the audience like a sing-along of “Jingle Bells” employed to cover a costume change and Monk’s scene changes where he’s apt to shout out to the audience while moving a set piece in the dark. All part of the fun and most welcome.
It’s big, bright and silly! Opening the day after Thanksgiving, they are one of the only shows running this weekend and there’s not a Bailey or Cratchit in sight. We’ve been going for a decade like it’s a doorbuster deal and we always have a good time seeing this intrepid group whip up merriment and push out all that loony energy. To think, they write and create these new every year! Their joy of creating and performing these twisted tales is a great, silly gift they share with their patrons and you can’t help but be wrapped in the communal embrace of a happy group of people thankful to be in a theater enjoying each other’s company. Long may the Loons live!
Photo by Cindy Smith
0396: Joanne Maurer, Sally McCarthy
0582: Monk Schane-Lydon
0652: Sam Reilly
0733: Mark Wilson, Joanne Maurer, Monk Schane-Lydon, Sally McCarthy, Sam Reilly, Cathy Lee-Visscher