Stephen Schwartz's Family-Friendly Geppetto & Son Tests Its Strings in Kansas City

News   Stephen Schwartz's Family-Friendly Geppetto & Son Tests Its Strings in Kansas City New musicals like to develop in quiet spots far from New York City. Starting June 27, the Coterie Theatre — the family-friendly company in Kansas City — is providing such a nest for the stage premiere of Stephen Schwartz's new musical, Geppetto & Son.
Alex Petersen in the premiere of Disney's Geppetto & Son at the Coterie Theatre.
Alex Petersen in the premiere of Disney's Geppetto & Son at the Coterie Theatre. Photo by Marianne Kilroy/Digital Labrador

The stage musical about the wood-working, puppet-making father of the famed Pinocchio (who went from puppet to "real boy" after experiencing the world, and with a little help from The Blue Fairy) is drawn from an earlier 2000 TV movie musical from Disney.

The world premiere stage show launching June 27-Aug. 6 at the Missouri Equity theatre is billed as Disney's Geppetto & Son, and mixes new music, songs from the TV musical and songs from the classic 1940 animated feature. Opening is June 30.

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"Once the Blue Fairy grants Geppetto his wish for a son, the new father finds his parenting skills are a bit rough" in the new yarn, which takes place after the action of the renowned Disney animated feature. The 1940 movie's score included "When You Wish Upon a Star," "I've Got No Strings," "Give a Little Whistle" and "Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee (An Actor's Life for Me)."

Academy Award-winning composer-lyricist Stephen Schwartz created the original score for the new work. The libretto is by David Stern. According to Coterie Theatre notes, "This light-hearted musical is based on the classic story of 'Pinocchio' told through the eyes of the loving, but challenged Geppetto. Feeling he is unwanted, Pinocchio runs away to become a star in a traveling show. Geppetto must negotiate through a maze of adventures and comic encounters to find him."

Schwartz said in production notes, "I believe Disney's Geppetto & Son is a show that is entertaining while at the same time dealing with such important themes as individuality, self-esteem and the relation of parents and children. I am pleased that the Coterie Theatre feels this is an important work. I have written several other shows and films that I believe have had a positive impact on young audiences, such as Disney's 'Pocahontas,' Godspell, Children of Eden, and the current Broadway show Wicked. I believe Disney's Geppetto & Son is a strong addition to this group."

Disney's Geppetto & Son is the third annual production in the Coterie's "Lab for New Family Musicals." The program was created "to help accomplished Broadway composers find a way into the field of professional theatre for young audiences, and at the same time create musicals in a size and scale that other professional theatres for young audiences can produce," said Jeff Church, Coterie artistic producing director, who will direct the production.

"We aim to attract talent of the highest caliber to actively write for our audience," he stated. "Disney's Geppetto & Son aligns with the Coterie's mission to redefine traditional notions of children's theatre to include families and diverse audiences. This is also an important opportunity for us to work with Broadway talent such as Stephen Schwartz and his co-creator David Stern. What makes Geppetto & Son ingenious is the clever way it tells the great story with a new slant, and yet incorporates parts of the Disney score material."

The creative team for the Coterie production includes musical director Molly Jessup, set designer Gary Wichansky, choreographer Ernie Nolan, costume designer Jennifer Myers-Ecton, puppetry designers/properties masters William Hill and Jon Cupit, lighting designer Art Kent, sound designer David Kiehl, production manager Amy M. Abels Owen.

The cast will feature Charles Fugate, Jessalyn Kincaid, Alex Petersen, Ben Gulley, Ron MeGee, Damron Armstrong, Brian Duncan, Elizabeth Griffith, Whitney Sutton and Justin Van Pelt, with youth ensemble members Caroline Adams, Talya Groves, Evan Michael Haas, Sam Hall, Tyler Horseman, Maddie Jurden, Daria LeGrand and Brandin Tolbert. Musicians are Bill Solomon and Sam Wisman.

In Disney's Geppetto & Son, the co-creators have kept the callous puppeteer Stromboli (from the first film), whose song is an operatic tenor recitative, and have also invented Professor Buonragazzo who "designs" perfect, made-to-order offspring, and the Ring Leader who turns children into donkeys. The show now incorporates a new song not included in the original Disney "Geppetto" movie along with "When You Wish Upon a Star" and "I've Got No Strings" from the original Disney "Pinocchio" movie.

Schwartz and Stern's "Geppetto" was first seen as a made-for-television special that appeared on "The Wonderful World of Disney" starring Drew Carey in the title role.

"I was working with Stern on another project and David mentioned he had the idea of doing a show based on looking at the Pinocchio story from the father's [Geppetto's] point of view," Schwartz said in notes. "I found the idea compelling, so together we approached Disney. David and I were interested in exploring the idea of fatherhood and what it means to be father."

The idea of a subsequent stage musical was raised during discussions with New musicals like to develop in quiet spots far from New York City. The Coterie Theatre — the family-friendly company in Kansas City — is providing such a nest for the stage premiere of Stephen Schwartz's new musical, Geppetto & Son.Schwartz and representatives from Music Theatre International (MTI), the company that licenses shows to theatres. The new stage version in two short acts is being licensed by Disney Theatrical Productions and will eventually be available to professional children's theatres across the country and the world, via MTI.

"We are thrilled to bring this version of the classic Disney story 'Pinocchio' to a brand new audience at the Coterie Theatre," stated Steve Fickinger, vice president, Theatrical Licensing, Disney Theatrical Productions.

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Named one of the five best theatres in the nation for young audiences by Time magazine and winner of the 2004 Missouri Arts Award, the Coterie Theatre is a not-for-profit professional theatre for youth and family audiences. Its mission is to provide professional classic and contemporary theatre "which challenges audience and artist and to provide educational, dramatic outreach programs in the community." It seeks "to open lines of communication between races, sexes and generations by redefining children's theatre to include families and diverse audiences."

The Coterie's main stage season consists of six full productions from October through August with an emphasis on new or recent works, reaching multigenerations. The main stage season also includes the Annual Young Playwrights' Festival. The Coterie Theatre has earned a national reputation by commissioning or producing world premieres that contribute to the body of material available for young audiences."

For more information, visit www.coterietheatre.org.