Reprinted with permission from the Record-Journal
Enjoy, 07/27/2000, Page: A08
A new take on 'Pinocchio'
By Amanda Savio, Record-Journal staff
MERIDEN - This summer, Rene Pfister is part director, part mediator, part
The mediator-parent part usually comes during rehearsal breaks for
KidzArtz' production of "Pinocchio," an original take on the classic tale
created by Pfister. However, he can hardly concentrate on the hip-hop style
music of the show when some young actors are just not playing nice.
He good-naturedly breaks up the occasional disagreement among the 17 8-
to 13-year-olds enrolled in the three week program, which takes place at the
YMCA. There weren't too many one afternoon earlier this week, but maybe
that's because the children have something a little more important on their
minds: opening night Friday night.
"Pinocchio," presented by KidzArtz and the City of Meriden, will run
Friday at 7:30 and Sunday at 2 p.m. at Washington Middle School.
When one young girl complained of an injury - "Rene, blood is coming out
of my Band Aid" - he solved the problem and went on to the next.
While the performers in this musical may still be in elementary and
middle school, Pfister, who is a Berklee College of music graduate living in
Northampton, Mass., looks at them as equal to anyone else.
"I like working with everybody," said Pfister, who is also a singer,
songwriter and actor himself. "I see kids as people. I worked with kids for
many years (as co-founder and director of the Young People's Theatre from
1992-1996). For the last couple of years I did touring and other things.
"This fell back in my life," he said. "I love the energy of the kids."
Pfister got involved with the KidzArtz program through its director,
Steve Van Ness, he said. Van Ness had seen one of Pfister's other
productions, a musical based on Shakespeare's "A Midsummer's Night Dream,"
and was blown away.
"He made it work in a very creative way," Van Ness said.
At first, the plan was to have Pfister send the score and script down to
Meriden, as he was unable to come himself. He decided he wanted to revise
the script, which he wrote with his friend Jim Ballard, and changed his
Pfister has produced his version of "Pinocchio" two other times, but said
it is ever changing. He recently threw out a song and replaced it with
another, because the first wasn't working. "It's important to create an
environment where it's OK to mess up," he said.
"He works great with the kids," Van Ness said. "This is embodying exactly
what I wanted."
When Pfister approached the story as a musical, he decided to read the
book by Carlo Collodi, which he found to be much darker than the well-known
Disney version. Pfister decided to bring some depth to his version.
He makes the point clear in the show that Pinocchio needs to make choices
for himself, without the assistance of magic. "Its about `making choices,"
he said. "It's an important message for everybody. It's a lot like Harry
Potter. There's a lot of stuff going on, but he has to make the decision for
That's not to say it's not a fun show. There are songs inspired by
everything from jazz to pop, with titles like "Sneezed Out By A Whale."
Alex Malanych, 10, gets a kick out of the songs he gets to participate in
as Coachman, an evil guy who wants to capture little boys and turn them into
donkeys. "I Love My Donkeys" is one of Malanych's numbers.
"They're really fun to do," he said. "They're not hard songs. They're
The children are at rehearsal from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with breaks for
snack, games, lunch and swimming. Many of them are acting veterans who are
used to working hard.
"I've done a lot of rehearsals like it before," said Ethan Van Ness, 8,
who has been involved with the Castle Craig Players in Meriden. He is
playing Coachman's sneaky sidekick, the Fox. "I'll tell you, I sleep well at
Alex Raup, 10, is playing the title role. He's not too nervous, he said.
"I've had a lot of acting experience, and it's really easy for me."
Steven Lopez is psyched to get the chance to act. The 10-year-old is
playing Gepetto. "This is my first opportunity to be a real actor," he said.
Perhaps no one works as hard Pfister, who commutes an hour and a half
each way from Northampton. "There's a song called 'Gepetto's Crazy,'" he
said. "Maybe that can be applied to me. But I like the excitement and chaos
of it. Creativity comes from that."
Where: Washington Middle School, Meriden
When: Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Phone: (203) 235-6386
For more information, send email