Ennio PHOTO: Manuel Bergamin (“Ennio”)

The Living Cartoon

Ennio animates caricatures of celebrities old and new at the Pasadena Playhouse

By Jana J. Monji 08/17/2011

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If you’ve seen Ennio Marchetto perform, you might expect that he would speak a mile-a-minute or be constantly mugging, and Skype, the media used for a recent interview from his home in Italy, would be perfect for that. Rather, Ennio, who is perhaps best known by just his first name, was quiet and thoughtful, almost somber, when we talked.

Billed as “Ennio Marchetto: The Living Paper Cartoon,” Ennio, who will be performing at the Pasadena Playhouse from Aug. 23 through Aug. 28, uses paper and cardboard costumes to fold and unfold into different people. He often changes costumes for his 350 characters onstage, with facial expressions and movements adding to the hilarity.

Born in Venice in 1960, Ennio grew up with a special love of the old Disney classics “Dumbo,” “Bambi” and “Sleeping Beauty,” although his current favorite animated film, “Ratatouille,” is a 2007 computer animation out of Pixar (distributed by Disney).

“A mouse in cartoons makes me cry,” he says with a shrug. “Remember when he fell in the water?”
Instead of joining the family bus-iness of repairing espresso mach-ines, he decided to get into show business after making his friends laugh with his impersonations.

Inspired by contemporary dance pioneer Pina Bausch, the Venetian Carnivale and Walt Disney, Ennio makes quick-change magic with cardboard and paper. When he met his collaborative partner Sosthen Hennekam, a Dutch costume and fashion designer, things really took off, and together they developed an hour-long show that went to the famous Edinburgh Festival and became an instant hit.

Althought his friends were laughing, his parents were concerned.

“My father just worked,” he recalls. “He never went to the theater so much. It was very strained at the beginning, but they realize I’m traveling all over the world with this show successfully for 22 years.”

Over the years, he’s brought in new characters and retired a few. He can lip synch in 17 different languages. “It’s most difficult these days to find a character that lasts more than a short time and is easy to recognize everywhere. It’s easier to do old icons from the cinema and musicals like ‘Mary Poppins,’ ‘Spiderman,’ ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and ‘Rocky Horror,’” he says.

Ennio has retired some of his paper celebrities, such as Boy George. For a while, he also retired the Three Tenors after fellow Italian Luciano Pavarotti died in 2007. But he has recently brought them back because Pavarotti is the only Italian character he currently has with worldwide recognition (the other two tenors, José Carreras and current LA Opera director Plácido Domingo, are Spanish).

As time goes on, his act continues to evolve. “A new character must have a song that everybody recognizes and a look that is very easy to do,” Ennio says, and now he has added Internet singing sensation Justin Bieber “because he’s young and has that distinctive style.”

The last time Ennio was in Los Angeles, he performed at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood, but he’s familiar with Pasadena.

Naturally, as a movie fan, he said he loved going to see the homes of the stars in Los Angeles. But Pasadena, after all, is the home of the Tournament of Roses, and Ennio loves roses — he has 10 climbing roses at his home. While in the city, he intends to visit the Huntington Library, Arts Collection and Botanical Gardens to appreciate the rose garden.

“I’m a keen gardener; I love Pasadena,” Ennio says. “It’s a beautiful place.”

“Ennio Marchetto: The Living Paper Cartoon” performs Aug. 23 through Aug. 28 at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 South El Molino Ave., Pasadena. For more information, visit pasadenaplayhouse.org or call (626) 356-7529.

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