In the original story of Pinocchio, when The Talking Cricket admonishes the spiteful, titular puppet that “Trouble awaits boys who rebel against their parents,” he is smashed with a wooden mallet.
That’s one detail upon which Collingswood resident Jack Jeckot did not seize in penning his musical adaptation of the story some 30 years ago, but it’s not the only one that distinguishes his take from the original or the 1940 version popularized by Walt Disney.
Jeckot came up with the idea when reading the original story by Italian author Carlo Collodi to his eight-year-old son, John, who was in the hospital for a month after he was struck by a car.
Jack Jeckot's mind started to travel to the far-flung places depicted in the story, and he thought, “this could be something I could do.”
“If a main character can travel to many places [in the story], there's a spot for a large group of kids [to sing ensemble music],” he said.
Jeckot had never tried his hand at writing a play, but he was already an accomplished musician dating back to his high school days, where he performed alongside Walter Trout in the (CHS) marching band.
In the years since, he and his wife of 41 years, Christine, have collaborated on 14 musicals, which Jack Jeckot brings to his students at Harrington Middle School in Mt. Laurel. He’s taught music in the district for nearly 40 years.
“Jack is a person who includes,” Christine Jeckot said. “He always asks me to try [something new]. ‘Would you like to try writing a play?’”
Collingswod Youth Theatre (CYT) director Barbara Lefkoe, who also attended CHS with the Jeckots, grew close with the couple years ago when her daughter, Sheryl Jennings, was in Jeckot’s performing arts group, STEP.
(Among other notable alums of STEP is South Jersey actor Philip Spaeth, who appears on the new NBC musical drama, Smash.)
Thanks to their long friendship, the couple agreed to donate the book to for the CYT 2012 spring performance.
CYT is dedicated to creating performing arts opportunities for elementary school children, who must often wait until middle school to participate in stage shows, Lefkoe said.
“[Theater] builds self-esteem, poise,” Lefkoe said. “The best compliment I ever got was that teachers could tell the theater kids from their ability to stand up and speak [before the class]. The confidence it gives some of the children is wonderful.”
“The next job is to try to get the big publishing companies” to buy the rights,” joked Christine Jeckot.
The Adventures of Pinocchio debuts at 7:30 pm, Friday, April 27, at the auditorium; a second evening performance and a 1 pm matinee follow April 28.