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Big Apple Theatre Update - Puppets, Gossip & the People Behind Both

April 27, 2010 - by Griffin Miller

FURRY, FELT & FABULOUS While Julie Taymor’s current project, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, dawdles in pre-Broadway limbo (backers, budgets, yadda, yadda, yadda), her puppet masterwork The Lion King still rules on the Great White Way. But what of that other long-running, Tony-winning musical cohabitated by people and puppets, Avenue Q? The cult fave has relocated to Off-Broadway’s New World Stages, where it continues to draw pixilated crowds. [Adult crowds, please -- bedroom romps and sexual innuendoes are not for little kids, even if the participants do resemble Oscar the Grouch and Miss Piggy.]  

Which is not to say New World Stages has turned its back on puppet-loving tykes. Indeed, the venue, which also boasts the popular Gazillion Bubble Show, has recently begun welcoming preschoolers to ImaginOcean, a gleefully fluorescent undersea adventure featuring a trio of good-natured puppet fish and their oceanic pals. A mere 50 minutes long, ImaginOcean is the brainchild of actor/puppeteer/writer John Tartaglia, who created and starred in the Disney Channel’s Johnny and the Sprites.

And should you be heading downtown -- after the kiddies are tucked snuggly in their beds -- there’s some seriously naughty puppetry going on at the Union Square Theatre where Brian Henson and cohorts (“The Jim Henson Company’s World-Renowned Puppeteers”) are cutting loose with the radically uncensored Stuffed and Unstrung, a multimedia improv feeding frenzy comprised of spontaneously twisted comic sketches and musical numbers based on audience suggestions. It’s Whose Line Is It Anyway? concocted by a gaggle of cunning puppet-masters and their compliant pawns: Bad Bunnies, pig people, bovine personae, the somewhat-human, the your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine, etc., etc.

The battle cry here is “Puppet Up,” and without question this is the place to channel your inner puppet -- your inner, bawdy, bizarro, and occasionally blasphemous puppet.

CASTING UPDATES Mandy Gonzalez, whose breakthrough performance as college student Nina in In the Heights took her to Broadway, can now turn to her resident Oz costars and announce: ”I don’t think we’re in Washington Heights, anymore!” Yes, my friends, the multi-talented Gonzalez is the most recent actress to assume the role of Elphaba, a.k.a. the Witch of the West, in the Broadway sell-out Wicked. [FYI: The original 2003 cast boasted Kristin Chenoweth (Promises, Promises) as Glinda and Norbert Leo Butz (Enron) as Fiyero.]

Chicago, the show that never fails to push the revolving door of casting coups, is spinning into May with a couple of high-profilers: legendary Ruthie Henshall -- who originated the role of Roxie Hart in London in 1997 (Olivier Award) -- will be reprising the publicity-hungry murderess on Broadway through June 13th, while Matthew Settle of Gossip Girl fame struts his hunk-and-a-half stuff as smooth as silk lawyer Billy Flynn.

The original Broadway cast of Hair may have packed up their fringed vests and granny skirts and headed to London, but not to worry: the all-new, all-groovy Tribe spreading peace, love, rebellion, and flower power at the Hirschfeld Theatre is sheer hippie nirvana. So, first-timers rejoice and repeat visitors step up and be anointed once again to the Age of Aquarius -- particularly if you wimped out on joining the cast onstage for the killer finale -- get up there and rock on!

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