Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio Extravaganza Returns to Orinda

(Jeff Heyman, Photographer)
Some of the cast of Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio at the Orinda Starlight Village Players stage in the Orinda Community Center Park. Back row (L-R): Jennifer Su, Ariella Folks, Monica Bonnington, Dan Phillips, Anthony Polakoff, Laura Martin-Chapin and John Chapin. Front row: Kenny Silberberg, Emma Park and Zoey Long.

    The Orinda Starlight Village Players (OrSVP) open their final 2023 production Sept. 8 with Director Malcolm Cowler’s adaptation of Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio. The musical follows the adventures of Pinocchio, a wooden puppet, which longs to become a real boy.
    “I believe this is closer to the book than other versions,” said Cowler. “This is mainly due to how I create my adaptations. I import the entire text of the book into my word processor, then gradually reduce it into a workable script. This ensures around 80% exact dialog from the book.”
    Cowler, who produced Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio in 2015 said, “The cast includes some from the original, but many are new to the show and to OrSVP, including Pinocchio. He is played by a 20+ boy rather than the nine-year-old girl last time,” said Cowler. “This adds exciting new challenges for us. The songs are all new arrangements from our musical director, Ray Christensen, who is playing Geppetto, Pinocchio’s father.”
    “Malcolm wrote the lyrics to the songs, and gave me some basic melodic ideas,” said Christensen. “I decided which instruments to use for each song and wrote the music to accompany the song. Then I recorded the instrumental arrangements to be played as background for the singers in the show.”
    Jill Gelster, production manager at OrSVP, recommended Christensen to Cowler when he needed a musical composer for Pinocchio eight years ago.
    “I’ve done several shows with Orinda Starlight, as an actor and as a music arranger,” said Christensen.
    His acting credits with OrSVP include, The Tempest and Triple Tryst of Terror. He’s created music for Wind in the Willows, Comedy of Errors and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
    “The 17-member cast is diverse with the youngest turning three this month,” said Cowler. “It’s always challenging to find costumes for everyone.”
    “I’m excited about the talent in the show,” said Christensen. “Working with young performers is always very fulfilling and I cherish the opportunity to encourage and mentor them so they continue to grow and flourish in the performing =arts.”
    To create the various scenery, Cowler said, “We project continuous video onto a screen covering the entire back of the stage. It carries the audience throughout the land Pinocchio inhabits and inside the homes of the characters.”
    This video projection differs from the original. “Last time I used front projection, which limited the amount of stage use to avoid blocking the screen,” said Cowler. “With advances in technology, I can leave the entire stage open for action.”
    Meet cast members at Geppetto’s Cafe, 87 Orinda Way, Sept. 23 at 1 p.m. and hear a few songs.
    “Geppetto’s Cafe has provided coffee for OrSVP patrons for many years,” said Gelster. “Come meet Geppetto at Geppetto’s.”
    Performances are Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:30 p.m., Sept. 8 through 30 at the Orinda Community Center Park Amphitheater. The two matinees are Sunday, Sept. 17 and 24 at 4 p.m. and one Thursday performance, Sept. 28 at 8 p.m.
    OrSVP is completely run by volunteers. Anyone who is interested in any aspect of theater and would like to help is encouraged to contact the group at or 925-528-9225.

David Dierks can be reached at

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