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Friday, October 17, 2008

Center for Puppetry Arts reanimates Ghastly Dreadfuls

Last night I hit The Center for Puppetry Arts for opening night of The Ghastly Dreadfuls II: Handbook of Practical Hauntings and Other Phantasmagoria by Jon Ludwig and Jason Von Hinezmeyer. I'll review it in more detail closer to Halloween, but wanted to mention that it easily lives up to its entertaining predecessor, The Ghastly Dreadfuls: Compendium of Graveyard Tales and Other Curiosities (which I previewed in 2006).

The follow-up has the same cast and same format, presenting seven undead storyteller/musicians, who use puppetry to recount chilling ghost stories while playing spooky tunes between tales. The new version presents new songs and stories, with the exceptions of "The Girl in the New Dress," inspired by vintage Coca-Cola print ads, and "Danse Macabre," a performance of the classic-Saint-Saens composition while amorous, boozing skeletons and other haints party down in a graveyard. You can catch glimpses of the latter two in this preview clip edited from the show's previous incarnation:

So a funny thing happened at opening night...

Not surprisingly, The Ghastly Dreadfuls II is full of spooky effects involving ghosts, cemeteries, bloodletting and the like, as suits the Center's annual Halloween show. During "The Girl in the New Dress," a problem developed with the show's fog machine, and billowing clouds filled the theater. Puppetry tends to be an art of subtle movement and fine detail, which can be hard to appreciate during white-out conditions.

Ludwig recovered amusingly, however. As the show's emcee "Simply Dreadful" he had greeted the audience at the outset and asked if any newcomers were present. After the fog problem, he came out and said, in character, "To those of you who've never been here before and wondered what live theater is like: now you know!" Before the intermission, he also quipped about getting a breath of fresh air and avoiding "black lung disease."

A howlingly entertaining show, The Ghastly Dreadfuls II isn't the only new attraction at The Center for Puppetry Arts. The "Jim Henson: Wonders from His Workshop" special exhibit is up, and along with charming items like a full-sized Big Bird costume from "Sesame Street" and lots of keepsakes from "Fraggle Rock," it features some neat-o puppets, props and set-pieces from the Jim Henson/David Bowie movie Labyrinth, including The Shaft of Hands, the Four Guards and the goblin-faced Door Knocker. It's one of the coolest things I've ever seen in the theater's atrium.

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