The kids are part of the magic

Arden Children's Theatre presents Greg Banks’s Pinocchio

3 minute read
Martinez-Briggs, in a green jacket, speaks to the audience while Castaldi sits beside them and plugs his ears with both hands
An energized cast: Anthony Martinez-Briggs (left) and Reese Castaldi in the Arden’s ‘Pinocchio.’ (Photo by Ashley Smith, Wide Eyed Studios.)

A flyer plastered on the upstage wall of Arden Children's Theatre's Pinocchio announces the production's prevailing theme. It reads, “You belong here.”

The play begins quietly. An actor dressed in painters' overalls (costumes by Leigh Paradise) enters the stage, singing along to the music thumping from their headphones, before noticing people in the seats. A playful push and pull ensues, wherein the actor explains there will be no show today and that they're here instead to paint the scenery for an upcoming production, inviting children in the audience to speak up.

Other painters arrive, and soon the group is off on an ostensibly improvised retelling of the wooden boy's moral odyssey, using little besides common items found on a production cart—like paint rollers, cardboard tubes, and buckets—as costumes and props. In the playbill, director Rebecca Wright likens this process to building a pillow fort, writing, “You use whatever is around to build something from your imagination and make it real.”

Sincerity, verve, and spectacle

An energized cast breathes life into Greg Banks's adaptation. Reese Castaldi brings sincerity and verve to the title role, while Anthony Martinez-Briggs, Izzy Sazak, and Nathan Alford-Tate expertly juggle different voices, affectations, and postures for their multiple roles.

Occasionally, the momentum snags, as in a handful of songs that summarize plot points. While Alex Bechtel’s compositions contain well-sung harmonies and clever use of found objects as instruments, these moments only serve to pause the story’s forward motion.

Lights by Maria Shaplin and Bechtel’s sound are more effective, applying visual spectacle only when it strengthens the energy of the make-believe. One such moment occurs during Pinocchio and Geppetto's escape from the belly of the whale, where deep blue lighting and the rush of ocean water heighten an atmosphere that had children organically chanting for the heroes' successful escape.

A model of theatrical engagement

There are many moments where the performance encourages vocal engagement, but the emphasis on active participation begins before audiences even get to the theater. In a social narrative on the Arden’s website, children receive a step-by-step rundown of what it’s like to attend Pinocchio. They are met with child volunteers taking tickets, distributing programs, and helping patrons to their seats—these kids, too, are active participants and provide a model of engagement with theater not only as audience but as practitioner.

After the show concludes, the cast hosts a brief talk-back. At the opening performance, children asked questions about how different aspects of the show worked, such as whether a prop glass of milk was real, or what the actors' inspirations behind their characters were. The cast answered openly and honestly, keeping no secrets. Afterward, as the audience files out, the cast waits in the lobby to answer further questions and gives kids close-up looks at some of the props.

Arden's Pinocchio empowers its young audiences not only to be active participants in the story but also to understand how it all works. By showing kids the strings that hold this theatrical production up, the production tells them not only do "you belong here," but "you are a vital part of the magic."

What, When, Where

Pinocchio. Adapted by Greg Banks, based on the story by Carlo Collodi; directed by Rebecca Wright. $20-$45. Through June 9, 2024, on the Arcadia Stage at the Arden Theatre, 40 N 2nd Street. (215) 922-1122 or


The Arden is a wheelchair-accessible venue. The Arcadia Stage is on the second floor, accessible via elevator. Smart Caption Glasses (recommended for ages 12 and up) are available to reserve for performances starting Saturday, April 27. There will be ASL Shadow Interpretation performances on Friday, May 24, at 10:30am, Saturday, May 25, at 4pm, and Wednesday, June 5, at 10:30am.

Sign up for our newsletter

All of the week's new articles, all in one place. Sign up for the free weekly BSR newsletters, and don't miss a conversation.

Join the Conversation