BWW Reviews: Henson Alternative's PUPPET UP! UNCENSORED a Dandy Adult Treat
Pasadena Playhouse/3 nights only Thursday July 24 - Saturday July 26
As part of their annual Summer at the Playhouse series in July, which this year also included Joey Luft and Mary Bridget Davies, Pasadena Playhouse hosted Henson Alternative's Puppet Up! Uncensored for 3 nights only. Music, Mayhem, Madness was promised and certainly delivered with six puppeteers, comic host Patrick Bristow - and at least 50 puppets centerstage. The show is audience friendly; in fact, in a couple of scenarios, audience members are invited on stage to participate in what appears to be a spontaneously imagined set.
Imagination and spontaneity play into most of the two-hour show, where no one or nothing is sacred. Four-letter expletives and obscene words - Tweet turned into Twat, sexually explicit images and dialogue, as well as political and cultural parodies all come into fast and furious play. In the show on the 26th, Bristow, as host, set up the situation and then asked for suggestions from the audience, like where should this scene take place? or what should the couple be doing on their first date? or what title should we give this movie? There was a great spoof of all Bond films called Fire in the Hole. Use your imagination to fill in what it means! Yes, it's totally nasty. The six puppeteers, actors/singers all skilled in improv, choose their puppets from a large bank of puppets stage right and proceed to initiate the play, holding the puppets high above the floor monitor center stage. On huge screens behind, you can watch the puppets only, but it is such fun to go back and forth between the action on screen and the performances of the puppeteers to see how they are creating the words and choreography, so to speak. There was a hilarious A & E Biography of Leonard Nimoy, an entire scene with Hot Dog puppets that resemble dildos, a game show called Wheel of Misfortune with a LIVE animated character as host... and a play called Finding Moby Dick that took place in a fish 'n chip shop, played out not once but 3 times: the performance, the understudy performance with different puppets and then a performance abroad with Norwegian dialogue dubbed into the script. There was also a dynamite tornado created with a wind machine and table top puppets - that you can see from head to toe - to the musical strains of the oldie but goodie hit rock song "Windy". The delightfully bizarre part of all of this nonsense is that most of it is audience generated and improvised amazingly right before your very eyes.
Brilliant performers included 4 guys: Ted Michaels, Michael Oosterom, Sean Johnson, Brian Michael Jones, and 2 gals: Donna Kimball and Dorien Davies. Marvelous Dan Ring provided the musical accompaniment at the electric keyboard throughout.
Produced by Brian Henson, Puppet Up! Uncensored is not for kids. It's most definitely an adult outing with Saturday Night Live/vaudeville antics, circus physicality like juggling and contortionists - well, as close a proximity as an amateur from the audience can provide - and musically, even a venture into opera, again on the purely comical side. It's a whole lot of fun and a chance to participate. My friend yelled out a suggestion for one of the scenarios - His First Proctology Exam - and they incorporated it quite deliciously with a totally sick ending. Wild and crazy, this muppet experience will have you coming back for more whenever and wherever it performs.