It was arguably the most dismal, rainy and dreary weekend in recent Montgomery County memory, but on the stage of the Crighton Theater in Conroe, Texas, the angelic voices and beaming faces of more than sixty young Houston area thespians were bringing more light into the world than sunshine could have ever provided. It was the latest production of Christian Youth Theater Houston as the talented youngsters performed Disney’s “MY SON PINOCCHIO JR.” to the delight of the large crowd in attendance. It would be a fun filled afternoon.
Skillfully directed by Joshua Marchant, this production features the Music and Lyrics Book of Stephen Schwartz & David Stern, along with music by Leigh Harline & lyrics by Ned Washington. A pre-recorded soundtrack accompanied the fine singing of the youthful cast (Musical Director, Christina Hayes and Sound Design by Randy Bachman).
The story focuses on not only Pinocchio (an able and acrobatic performance from talented young, Bryce Gilleylen, who executes some terrific full flips), but also centers on the boy’s father, Geppetto, played sweetly here in a sensitive performance from George Schoeneberg. Geppetto is dissatisfied with his young son and wants to return him to the Blue Fairy (Hannah Yeates), who had once magically brought the puppet boy to life. Miss Yeates has a lovely voice and a great flair for comedy as she portrays this very conceited Blue Fairy who thinks she can do no wrong. She is aided by a very amusing quartet of singing and dancing assistant fairies named Rosa (Abby Crook), Viola (Emilly Schoen), Arancia (Sara Marie Wojta) and Sue (an uproarious and scene-stealing performance from comic “ham”, Julia Ballard). The fairies get things off to a pleasant start with the familiar song classic, “When You Wish Upon a Star,” and later move on to a series of very cute song-and-dance numbers titled, “Rise & Shine.” (Choreographer, Anna Fanning)
Next we are transported to the attractive workshop of old Geppetto (set designer, Ari Kogut, Lighting designer, Jordan Merritt) for the lovely song, “Toys.” Geppetto sings the sentimental, “Geppetto and Son,” as he longs for a son who would follow in his footsteps as a toymaker, rather than Pinocchio who wants to become a train engineer. The tension rises as we meet the conniving puppeteer, Stromboli (played to the hilt by sinister Maddie Reid), who wants Pinocchio to join her talented marionettes, (Sarah Yeates & Abigail Hudson) singing the classic, “I’ve Got No Strings,”in the cast of Stromboli’s puppet show. It is worth noting that Carol Neill deserves credit for the fine hair and makeup designs of characters like Stromboli, Pinocchio, Geppetto and others in the cast. At the same time, the colorful and creative costume designs of Rebecca Crook are an unmistakable highlight of the show throughout this production.
Act II began with what I consider to be this musical’s most infectious and delightful tune as Geppetto joins the fairies for the cheerful, “Just Because It’s Magic.” Then for added fun and hilarity, we meet the outlandish Professor Buonragazzo (Sean Ramsower) who sings “Satisfaction Guaranteed” as he makes his living manufacturing children for those who don’t find success in “doing it the old fashioned way.” I wish I could name every one of the talented kids and parent volunteers who made this show such a success.
There were many fascinating ensemble numbers like the beautifully staged, “Pleasure Island,” with its dazzling shadow-play opener led by Christopher Kimble as the Ringleader of the bad boys that Pinocchio has fallen in with. Of course Geppetto and Pinocchio end up inside a whale for a time, but I guess I don’t need to tell you that all ended happily on that very rainy day as the full cast sang the touching closing tune, “Since I Gave My Heart Away.” I left feeling special gratitude to one member of the cast, Sara Marie Wojta. Sara had invited her Career Education teacher at Knox Junior High School, Ms. Ruthellen Hinton, to attend the performance. Ms. Hinton, a good friend of mine, invited me to join her. How lucky can a guy get?
CYT will present the holiday musical ELF the Musical Jr. on weekends from December 11th through December 20th at McCullough Junior High’s LGI Theater. CYT will return to the Crighton Theatre in May for Aladdin Jr. For tickets and information visit the website at www.cythouston.org.