We know Drew Carey likes a good song and dance number. Just look at how many he's done over the years on "The Drew Carey Show." But the idea of him in a full-fledged musical - well, it just sounds odd.
There are moments watching "Geppetto," with Carey as the title character, that it looks odd, too.
Carey doesn't have much vocal range and he's not the typical leading man for a musical, but his sense of humor buoys this light and surprisingly original production.
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When: 7 tonight on ABC.
Starring: Drew Carey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Brent Spiner.
Of course, originality is relative. The live-action "Geppetto" is based on the classic "Pinocchio" story, but it's told from Geppetto's point of view. That could be tantamount to no difference whatsoever given the vagaries of network TV, but "Geppetto" actually goes out of its way to establish new themes.
When he's introduced, Geppetto is a bachelor toy maker who longs for a child, complaining in song, "Can you imagine? Parents who can't control their children?"
With a little presto-chango courtesy of the Blue Fairy (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), Geppetto's wooden boy comes to life.
Pinocchio (Seth Adkins) is a typical kid, but Geppetto isn't prepared for his energy or his endless questions ("Dad, can we switch beds?" "Dad, do we have a last name?").
Despite his grousing about other parents, Geppetto seems incapable of disciplining his son and does what so many parents do - he throws up his hands and sends the boy off to school where he causes trouble for his teacher (Ana Gasteyer of "Saturday Night Live").
Bratty Pinocchio runs away and gets himself captured by evil puppeteer Stromboli (Brent Spiner) and later finds himself a guest of the Ring Leader (Usher Raymond) at Pleasure Island.
Once Pinocchio disappears from Geppetto's life, he pretty much disappears from the film for a good stretch. This is where the focus turns most to Geppetto and the theme of parental responsibility.
"You are responsible for what you create," the Blue Fairy says in one of her many return appearances.
On the flip side, Geppetto visits the village of Idyllia, a storybook Stepford community where everyone is impossibly polite. Prof. Buonragazzo (Rene Auberjonois) creates children in a giant machine that spits them out with a promise of "Satisfaction Guaranteed," one of the movie's more elaborate musical numbers.
Jiminy Cricket is nowhere to be seen, but he does get mentioned in this "Wonderful World of Disney" production. There's also a fleeting snippet of "I've Got No Strings" from Disney's animated "Pinocchio."
As for the original tunes, music and lyrics by 1968 Carnegie Mellon University alum Stephen Schwartz, they're serviceable, but not durable. "And Son," a duet between Geppetto and Pinocchio, is probably the most hummable song, but there's nothing to equal "I've Got No Strings" or "When You Wish Upon a Star" or "High Diddle-Dee-Dee" from the classic Disney film.
After so many years watching her shout "Get Out!" as Elaine, Louis-Dreyfus seems out of place early on in "Geppetto." She's doing a hoity-toity accent that sounds like Elaine pretending to be British. Louis-Dreyfus settles more comfortably into the role later as her character becomes more playful.
Spiner and Auberjonois, both musical theater veterans, are the most compelling actors in "Geppetto." Both attack their roles with zest. Spiner makes Stromboli slightly insane with the help of a hand puppet and Auberjonois brings a sincere obliviousness to his role as a child manufacturer.
"Geppetto" is an improvement on recent TV musical remakes. We've seen "Annie" before, "Cinderella" starring Brandy came to TV with its story pretty much unchanged. CBS's 1996 musical "Mrs. Santa Claus" was an "original" story, but it was painfully unoriginal. At least "Geppetto" takes a familiar story and gives it a twist.
That might not be much, but it's better than nothing. Until recently, TV provided nothing new in the musical genre. "Geppetto" proves there's still new themes to explore in the old form.
Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv/ under TV Forum.