No lie: Hugo Bélanger’s Pinocchio is a marvel of ingenuity

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.

Marie-Ève Milot in a scene from Pinocchio; photo by Jérémie Battaglia

Marie-Ève Milot in Pinocchio; photo by Jérémie Battaglia

When you think of Pinocchio, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Chances are, it’s the marionette-boy’s nose, which grows whenever he tells a lie.

When you imagine Pinocchio not as an animated Disney cartoon, but as a live stage play, what’s the first challenge that comes to mind…?

Chances are, it’s that same nose. And yes, Pinocchio’s iconic proboscis proved to be the greatest challenge and the biggest opportunity when Hugo Bélanger, Artistic Director of  the internationally-acclaimed Québec theatre company Tout à Trac, decided to mount a production of Carlo Culodi’s classic novel. Thanks to Bélanger and his team’s ingenuity, their unique version is now playing to wowed audiences at Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre. After seeing the show, he promises, children ”will surely talk about the growing nose and the different puppets in the shows, like the Cricket and the shadow puppets.”

Hugo Bélanger, Artistic Director of Tout à Trac

Hugo Bélanger, Artistic Director of Tout à Trac

And, Bélanger promises, their amazement will not cease there. His re-imagining of the novel is in itself unexpected, and combines puppetry with music, acting and even some strategic pyrotechnics. Children will also “be amazed by the ‘burning beard’ of Mangiafuoco, the Puppet master…And I think they will be surprised by the log being carved into Pinocchio.”

“Über-inventive” might as well be Bélanger’s middle name. With extensive experience in playwrighting, direction, mask puppetry, street theatre (not to mention a recent collaboration with Cirque du Soleil), he continuously expands his artistic vision. And he does so at an exponential rate, accompanied by multiple awards and sold-out houses. But his initial vision is just the start of a sustained process of commitment and effort. Pinocchio, for instance, took an entire year to develop. “First, I wrote the adaptation,” explains Bélanger, “and after that, I hired actors, a set designer, a costume designer, a mask and props designer, a lighting designer, a music composer and a puppet designer. We worked all year long, imagining the set and composing the songs. After that, we rehearsed for 175 hours in French and created the show in French in Montreal. After touring the show in French, we translated the text into English and rehearsed another 100 hours in English and created the English version in Nashville.”

Marie-Ève Milot and Claude Tremblay in a scene from Pinocchio; Photo by Jérémie Battaglia

Marie-Ève Milot and Claude Tremblay in Pinocchio; photo by Jérémie Battaglia

The show’s enthusiastic reception by its young audience is ample recompense for the hours invested. Bélanger is deeply gratified “to see the kids being amazed by the show and rediscovering this wonderful story.” Immediately after seeing the show, my own children’s first response was, “What’s their next show?” Thankfully, we know the answer. Tout à Trac is currently in rehearsal in Montreal for their brand-new production of the Jules Verne classic, Around the World in 80 Days (Le Tour du Monde en 80 jours). “It will be presented in French first at the Theatre du Nouveau Monde, the biggest theatre in Montreal,” reports Bélanger. “We hope we will present it in Toronto in a few years!”

Based on the exuberant response to Pinocchio, it can’t come fast enough.



What : Pinocchio, written and directed by Hugo Bélanger, featuring Krystel Descary, Milva Ménard, Isabeau Proulx-Lemire and Claude Tremblay

Claude Tremblay in a scene from Pinocchio; photo by Jérémie Battaglia

Claude Tremblay in a scene from Pinocchio; photo by Jérémie Battaglia

Who : ages 6 (grade 1) and up

When : Running until March 21, 2015

Where : Young People’s Theatre, 165 Front Street East, Toronto

For tickets : 416.862.2222


Sneak Peek

© 2015 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya

Posted in Theatre and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .