Marketing intern Matt Lantieri sat down with “My Son Pinocchio, Jr.” director Rachel Stevens to discuss the production, the cast members, and how this version of “Pinocchio” offers lessons both young and old can relate to.
Matt Lantieri: So what are you most proud of so far during the rehearsal process?
Rachel Stevens: I am most proud of the fact that we have a very difficult score and a very difficult book. Stephen Schwartz wrote it – who wrote Wicked – and so the lyrics are really complicated, everything is really fast; there are a lot of pattern songs. Abby Shunskis [choreographer] always does really complex choreography for these kids and they really go for it. [The cast members are] dealing with these complex things: complex movement, complex language, and complex character, and it’s just incredible. They’re rising to the occasion, and it’s just really impressive.
ML: What do you think of when you hear the phrase “it’s all in the details”?
RS: Really understanding why you do what you do on stage. I play very close attention to action and intention with my actors. I speak to them about “you can’t play a feeling, you can only play an action” and a feeling is a byproduct of an action – really treating every little moment; why do you go here, why do you say this, what is the stimuli for this? Not just in an acting sense, but also attention to details is that each little moment, every character, every little cross, creates a picture that is interesting to look at and helps tell the story. Each person on the stage has something unique and specific. For example, I have this group of fairies, and there are four of them, and I’m working really closely with them – they’re not just a group of girls that feel one way about something, they all have very specific needs and wants about how they approach the story. [As audience members] we’re not watching people, we’re watching ideas, and that’s very important to me.
RS: There are a couple of new adventures they go on; I don’t think they go to the land of “Idealia”, which is the land of perfect children. The Blue Fairy is not your typical frilly fairy with a tutu; she’s sophisticated and a little sassy. They all have very different attitudes; it’s a much more mature interpretation – the characters are more mature.
ML: What themes are present?
RS: The idea that nothing is perfect. Geppetto, from the beginning, is searching for perfection. One of the reasons he’s a toy maker is that he likes to tinker with things, carve things, and make things fit into little puzzles…The journey that Pinocchio has to go on is that he has to learn to be selfless, he has to learn to appreciate things. He’s hollow – he’s made of wood – until he can feel a heartbeat, and that’s exactly what Geppetto has to go through too, in a very different way. He has this idea of what the world is, but until there are flaws its not worth it as much; flaws make things worth it.
ML: How has your cast begun to come together, and how have they influenced you?
RS: I have a lot of older kids in my cast, and they have a lot of interesting ideas they come up with on their own. For instance, I sat down with the leads the other day and I said, “I really want you to go away and look at the text and see what people say about you – see what you say about yourself, list some adjectives and start building a character physically.” They came into rehearsal today and they did their homework. A lot of young people would listen, go away, and not have put in the work. But they immediately came back and were asking me questions during the choreography rehearsal saying “I’m in the hallway, talking about my character with my scene partner and I think this is the relationship, what do you think?” All the cast members are just so ambitious and hungry to create a roll that is satisfying. It inspires me to make choices based on what they come up with.
RS: I think that it appeals to everybody. I think this particular version – and this goes back to the question you asked about how it’s different – it’s more from the parent’s perspective. It’s really Geppetto’s story of growing up. The kids will love that it is very fanciful. All the worlds we go to are big and colorful, and the concept of what we’re working with is that it’s a play within a play. It’s a big puppet theater in itself. All the scenery and costumes are very presentational – larger than life and really interesting to look at. The characters are really big characters. All of that is appealing to kids, but then when their parents come with them, there is a solid story about how parents learn from their children. I think that’s what makes the best children’s theater…when the kids have something they can take away, and remember the songs, and the characters – while the parents can go home and reflect on their relationship with their children.