Little Theatre offers Natchez twist to story of puppet who comes to life

Published 12:04 am Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Everyone knows the classic tale of the puppet who wanted to be a real boy. Pinocchio was made by an old Italian man and went through trials and tribulations to transform from marionette to human.

In Natchez, the story is a little different.

The Natchez Little Theatre will put on its first performance of “Mississippi Pinocchio” Thursday night.

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This revised version of the classic “Pinocchio” takes place in Natchez Under-the-Hill, with revamped characters, jazz and ragtime music and a cast of NLT veterans and relative new comers.

Morgan Mizell has been in more than 20 NLT productions and will take on the role of Gepetta, Pinocchio’s woodcarving mother.

The original story was rewritten by Mary Hall Surface for the Theatre of the First Amendment at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., with the major changes being the setting and some character alterations, Director Layne Taylor said.

However, Mizell is not worried the changes will affect the audience’s experience.

“I don’t think it changes the story so much that you’ve tarnished the story in any way,” Mizell said. “The changes are well done. It’s been a very challenging experience for everyone involved, and it’s a very creative and fun piece of theater.”

One newcomer to the NLT, Tim Leak of Woodville, has been actively participating in NLT productions since December, landing the role of Huck Finn in “Big River,” and now the role of Pinocchio.

Leak said he was a fan of the music in the play.

“It’s an operetta,” Leak said. “There’s music throughout the whole thing.”

Jon Borum, who will be taking the NLT stage for the first time — as the Fox — despite doing lighting and sound for the theater for a couple years, agreed the musical score was to be admired when it comes to this version of the classic story.

“I’m really involved with music around town and play with a lot of bands,” Borum said. “(The music) is a real jazz, ragtime, Dixieland type of music. It’s my favorite part of the whole play.”

Borum said his family was involved with the theater, so he got involved as well, but did not expect to end up on stage.

“I was running the lights and sounds, and Layne (Taylor) asked me to come look at the songs,” Borum said. “Then I was cast.”

Taylor said he was excited to bring this play to Natchez for several reasons.

“This hit home for me because of it being the Natchez Tricentennial, and it is based in a part of our history that is often overlooked,” Taylor said. “It takes place in 1910, which was a time of great immigration to Natchez and when most of our Italian families immigrated here.”

In the 15 years Taylor has worked with NLT, he believes this play may be one of the best because of the hard work and the history involved.

“This is the most complicated and complex show we have put on,” Taylor said. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I am very pleased with the results.”

The cast of 15 will put on their first show at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Performances will follow at the same time Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Taylor said the show will last approximately an hour and a half and is very fast paced.

Tickets are $20 and can be purchased by calling 601-442-2233, 877-440-2233 or by visiting