I was invited to see The Adventures of Pinocchio at Shakespeare theater, and I checked it out last week with my daughter Mia in tow (she turned 3 in April) and - just in case - our babysitter. The production is recommended for ages 5 and up, so I figured that perhaps after Mia saw Pinocchio doing his "I've Got No Strings" number, and after she got to meet Jiminy Cricket, she'd lose interest and the two of them could go explore Navy Pier.
Astonishingly (to me), Mia sat through the entire 75 minute production. I was surprised enough that she made it through the first scene, which was fairly scary and started off with Gepetto's wife "dying" - a word I've only recently introduced after the loss of our cat. There was booming thunder, lightning, darkness and an ominous storyteller voice, but Mia powered through, right on until the end.
I had assumed that this would be a pretty straightforward, if simplified, version of the Disney classic. Instead, Jiminy Cricket has no significant role, and we don't hear the classic songs "I've Got No Strings" or "Always Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide." However, this did not take away from my enjoyment one bit. The production was beautifully done, and the costumes held my attention as much as the story. The scene with the French marionettes was truly delightful, and the dancers really looked like they might have been operated by strings. The scenes with Fox and Cat were fantastic and they nearly stole the show.
The production is more dark than playful, but it brings home a message that's a good one for kids to learn: Life is full of choices - make smart ones (or you'll really be an ass!)
While Mia made it through, and even at one point told me "I'm really loving this!" I still agree with the recommendation of this show for ages 5 and up. There are definitely some frightening scenes, including Pinocchio and Gepetto inside the belly of the whale. Also, the storyline may not be terribly complicated, but some of the concepts will likely go over little ones' heads. I did occasionally whisper a quick, toddlered-down summary of the action to Mia to make sure she was keeping up, so at least she was generally following along.
Parents, you'll really enjoy this one as well, and you might even forget you're at a "kids' show."
Pinocchio is playing at Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier through August 28. Learn more at www.chicagoshakes.com.