Review: Pinocchio–A Folk Musical (Filament Theatre)

| February 26, 2016

Roberto Johnson with cricket puppet by Jeff Semmerling in Pinocchio Musical, Filament Theatre          

    A Folk Musical

Adapted/Composed by Tyler Beattie
Filament Theatre, 4041 N. Milwaukee (map)
thru March 6  |  tix: $14-$20  |  more info 
Half-price tickets available  


A lyrical but darker take on the children’s classic


Roberto Johnson with cricket puppet by Jeff Semmerling in Pinocchio Musical, Filament Theatre (dm)

Filament Theatre presents
Pinocchio: A Folk Musical

Review by John Olson

Full disclosure – Pinocchio has always occupied a special place in my heart since, when in junior high, I played Gepetto for some 26 performances in a production that toured Milwaukee’s parks and playgrounds for a summer. We performed (a probably) unauthorized adaptation of the 1940 Disney film version, complete with the songs including “When You Wish Upon a Star,” “Give a Little Whistle” and I’ve Got No Strings.” For years, Disney’s Pinocchio was the go-to animated musical for boys (with Snow White the preferred choice for girls). These two have since been upstaged by the likes of Disney’s Toy Story and Frozen, so it’s certainly past time for a new take on the tale of the puppet who wanted to become a real live boy but had to learn to obey his dad and not take the easier road all the time. For this new and completely charming original musical adaptation, composer/adapter Tyler Beattie has hewed more closely to the 1883 novel written by Carlo Collodi. Beattie’s version condenses the long, episodic plot of the novel but keeps many of its darker elements. Fans of the Disney version will be dismayed to learn Pinocchio squashes the talking cricket (who in this version is not named “Jiminy Cricket” – that was a Disney Maddy Low, Nik Kmiecik and Roberto Jonson in Pinocchio musical, Filament Theatreinvention. We also see Pinocchio doused with water by a mean neighbor, lose his wooden feet as he dries off over a hot stove, get hung upside down and be kidnapped and turned into a beast of burden.

Beattie has written lovely lyrical songs. They’re folk-influenced, for sure, but solid melodies in a show tune sense as well. The talented cast of six provides all the musical accompaniment in the manner of John Doyle’s Sweeney Todd and Company, taking turns on the piano and guitar, plus saxophone, upright bass, accordion and banjolele.

This is children’s theater, to be sure, but the sort adults can enjoy as well. Director Scott Ferguson has experience in both kids theater (he created Schoolhouse Rock) and very adult musicals (Bailiwick Chicago’s Aida and Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson) and this piece is accessible for children without pandering or dumbing it down for them. The production creates the more fantastical elements of the story with masks and puppetry (both cleverly designed by Jeff Semmerling) on a simple set by Brad Caleb Lee, but much credit is due to Ferguson and his actors for their physicality. As Pinocchio, Roberto Jonson physically captures the awkwardness and limited flexibility of a wooden boy while convincing us of the character’s goofy naivete. When Pinocchio and Lampwick (Nik Kmiecik) are transformed into donkeys, they do so simply with donkey ears and changes to their posture. Kmiecik and Kamille Dawkins as the fox and the cat don masks, but create their characters mostly through posture and movement. The young Felipe Carrasco is believable as the elderly Geppetto and Mara Dale and Maddy Low are elegant and graceful as the three consciences and the Blue Fairy. When Pinocchio lies, the growth of his nose is suggested simply by the movement of a violin bow extending past the actor’s face.

Kamille Dawkins, Roberto Jonson and Nik Kmiecik in Pinocchio, Filament Theatre (cl)

The costumes by Noel Huntzinger are colorful and clever (and include a handsome wooden wig for Pinocchio), but the magic of this show is mainly in the performances. Sure, parents can dip into their savings to get tickets to Disney’s Aladdin when it comes to Chicago next year – or cough up the bucks for the next visit of  Wicked, but it seemed to me at the matinee I attended that the kids in the audience were simply impressed by a three-dimensional performance taking place right in front of them. With ticket prices of just $14 for children (and $20 for adults) plus a kid-friendly performance schedule including Saturday and Sunday matinees, this is a perfect way to introduce young audiences to live theater. And if it scares them into behaving themselves and not skipping school to join a carnival, there’s that bonus as well!

Rating: ★★★

Pinocchio: A Folk Musical continues through March 6th at Filament Theatre, 4041 N. Milwaukee (map), with performances Saturdays at 3pm and 7pm, Sundays 12pm and 3pm.  Tickets are $14-$20, and are available online at (check for half-price tickets at More info at time: 1 hour with no intermission)

Kamille Dawkins, Roberto Jonson, Maddy Low, Nik Kmiecik and Mara Dale in Pinocchio, Filament Theatre (cl)

Photos by Dominick Maino and Christian Libonati




Felipe Carrasco (Geppetto and others, guitar), Mara Dale (The Three Consciences and others, piano), Kamille Dawkins (Fox and others, upright bass), Nik Kmiecik (Lampwick, Cat, Harlequin and others, piano, banjolele), Roberto Jonson (Pinocchio, guitar), Maddy Low (Blue Fairy and others, saxophone, accordion)

behind the scenes

Scott Ferguson (director), Tim McNulty (music director), Jeff Semmerling (mask and puppet design), Brad Caleb Lee (scenic design), Noel Huntzinger (costume design), Steph Taylor (associate costume design), Emma Dean (lighting design), C. Elias Nelson (stage manager), Rick Combs (technical director, carpenter), Neal Javenkoski (electrician), Julia Albertson (costume stitcher), Dustin Stilwell (costume crafts), Noelle Humbert (additional casting), Jill Arena (graphic designer), Sadie Tremblay (sound technician), A440 Violin Shop (bass provider), Dominick Maino, Christian Libonati (photographers)


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: 2016 Reviews, Children's Theatre, Filament Theatre, John Olson, Musical

Comments (0)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

There are no comments yet. Why not be the first to speak your mind.

Comments are closed.