Wild Rice’s annual Christmas pantomime is back. Playing to full capacity for the first time in three years (yay!), this year’s edition gives a 140-year-old Tuscan folk tale the Wild Rice treatment to deliver on all the fun and warmth that we’ve come to expect of their uniquely Singaporean pantomimes.
Pinocchio – Wild Rice’s 16th original holiday musical – is a lively, heart-warming celebration of friendship and family ties. Playwright Thomas Lim has taken elements of both the original tale as well the better-known Disney adaption and deftly translated them into the Singaporean context of P-plates, Learning Journeys and aunty scammers to regale the adventures of the puppet who wants to become a real boy.
Wild Rice’s Pinnocchio: Colourful Characters – Of P-plate Fairies and G-Hoppers that Make You Smile
Mae Elliessa and Ebi Shankara helmed the cast with strong performances as the earnest Pinocchio and kindly Geppetto, respectively.
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But it was the colourful cast of supporting characters that took that cake for me, from the P-plate Blue Fairy (Dwayne Lau) to the rapping G-Hopper – NOT a cricket, ok! – (Siti Kalijah Zainal) and the scammer-turned-kena-scammed duo Franky Lee (Vester Ng) and Lucky Lee (Michelle Ler). All arguably local stereotypes – perfectly executed and warming the cockles of my heart.
Also deserving of a mention were the talented and adorable First Stage Kids who assumed the role of the chorus, ever-so-creatively deployed by Director Pam Oei.
As a plus, the intimacy of the thrust stage at Wild Rice @Funan allowed us to get up close and personal with the performers and created an absorbing experience for my young viewer.
Rich Themes: Of Truth and Parenting
Besides riotous fun, the production also harboured surprisingly rich themes.
My own childhood memories of Pinocchio are primarily of the nose that wouldn’t let the puppet boy tell a lie undetected. To my young mind, the moral of the story was simple – don’t lie. But what if the truth isn’t black or white?
As the irrepressible Franky & Lucky give Pinocchio a lesson in lying, young audiences are cheekily introduced to the concept of euphemisms in the delightful number “Half Truths” with irreverent references to “seasonal ponding” and “circuit breakers” for illustration.
Experiencing Wild Rice’s nuanced interpretation of the tale as a parent also revealed a surprisingly resonant theme – that of parents stumbling while trying to do their best by their children. Geppetto’s lament at having failed his son in the song “Gently Goes the Parents Hand” was strangely moving and cautionary, for scars inflicted by parents in childhood can often be consequential in later life. Here, as in many spots elsewhere in the production, Julien Wong’s music and Joel Tan’s lyrics shone, with the band under the musical direction of Joel Nah.
Creative Artistry: Wooden or Real? And That Nose!
Kudos also go to the creative and artistic team.
My young viewer, who is mechanically-inclined, was fascinated by the unveiling of Pinocchio from his block-of-origin (wood) and later transformation from wood to flesh. Some very clever costuming, and a brilliant performance by the talented Mae Elliessa had him undecided for quite a while initially, if it was a human or “robot” on stage!
And how did the team tackle the puppet’s infamous growing nose? No spoilers – you’ll have to go see for yourself! Suffice to say, it was pretty ingenious.
Billed for ages 5 to 105, Pinocchio is a truly enjoyable romp for the whole family. As an added bonus, the downloadable activity book for kids and cast recording available on Spotify and other streaming platforms, will easily extend the fun for a while beyond the theatre walls.
Pinocchio is now on at Wild Rice @ Funan till 24 December 2022. Get more details here.