Logan Eubank is hooked. The 4-year-old is on the edge of his seat — make that his mom’s lap — watching the adventures of Pinocchio in a new Valley Center Stage production. He grins when Lorenzo chases Pinocchio through the audience, chirps like a cricket on cue, nods his head vigorously in answer to “anyone want a free ride to the Land of Toys?” and, hands to his mouth, he looks really, really worried when Pinocchio’s dad can’t wake the boy-puppet up.
“Their imaginations are so limitless,” said a gratified Craig Ewing, who plays Pinocchio’s father, Alberto (Gepetto is a copyrighted name), in the children’s show opening Feb. 7 at the North Bend community theatre. The children, a group of Cub Scouts and their families, not only enjoyed the first full dress rehearsal of the show last Tuesday, they also had a few suggestions to improve it.
For instance, several of the children thought both Pinocchio and Alberto should stay out of the “fire” in one of the final scenes, and nearly all of them thought Pinocchio should dance “Gangnam Style” when he first comes to life. Just at the suggestion, a handful of Scouts got up to demonstrate their dance moves from the Korean pop video.
Director Gary Schwartz, delighted with the reaction, says “It’s funny, right?”
Funny is what Schwartz wanted, which is why he invited the Scouts to watch the rehearsal.
“This is called an interactive show,” he explained to his audience, so the actors will sometimes ask for help from the audience. Since it was also a dress rehearsal, “sometimes we’ll stop the show and do something again, and then you can see it again, and that helps tell us what you think is funny.”
Almost anything Hickory Cricket (Peter Cook) did was funny, and running, dancing, and snoring all got great responses, but when Alberto was about to send Pinocchio off to school with only a few books in his backpack, one boy in the audience was distressed. “You forgot his lunch!” he shouted to Alberto. “What about his lunch?!”
Unscripted comedy and all, the actors — Ewing, Cook, Lisa and Peter Bryant and their daughter Alex, Courtney Struelens and James Kolke as Pinocchio — loved having a live audience to work with.
“It makes it easier with people, because we get to see what we’re doing right,” said Struelens, appearing as the puppet Pepperoni, “and (the audience) did such a great job!”
Lisa Bryant, a veteran actor at the theater, likes the contrast between children’s shows — she was also in “Jack and the Beanstalk” — and shows for older audiences. “There’s a lot of breaking of that ‘fourth wall’ with a children’s show,” she said, but it takes “the same amount of focus.”
Hard work, too. James Kolke, 11, as the title character, says the weeks of rehearsal so far have been a lot of work, but he knew that going into the auditions, having appeared in several productions of the Valley Center Stage’s traditional “A Christmas Carol.”
“I (auditioned) because I had the chance to do it,” he said. “I just felt like a kid should be Pinocchio, otherwise an adult would have.”
The script originally called for an adult Pinocchio. Schwartz praised the writer, Kathryn Schultz-Miller, whose scripts he’s used in other shows, saying “she just knows how to write this kind of interaction.”
After the rehearsal, Schwartz and crew thanked their audience, then took questions and educated them a little about community theatre and production challenges. Asked where the set came from, he explained “We used it two years ago, for ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes.’” Then gesturing to Ewing, he added “Craig here was walking around in his underwear!”
“Yeah, you missed a good one,” Ewing told the laughing crowd.
There’s no need to miss this one, though. Pinocchio opens Friday, Feb. 8 and runs for two weekends. The 45-minute play starts at 7 p.m. Fridays, Feb. 8 and 15, and at 2 p.m. Saturdays, Feb. 9 and 16. Tickets are $10 for adults, $7.50 for children and seniors. Order tickets online at www.valleycenterstage.org.
For more information, call (425) 831-5667.