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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Toronto Star - Puppet Up: Uncensored: These Muppets Aren’t For Kids

The Toronto Star
by Kelly Cameron
3 stars (out of 4)

Created by Brian Henson and Patrick Bristow. Until Nov. 3 at the Panasonic Theatre, 651 Yonge St. 416-872-1212
When you pay a visit to Puppet Up: Uncensored, which opened at the Panasonic Theatre on Tuesday night under the banner of Mirvish Productions, you should be prepared to forget Kermit, Miss Piggy and the gang. These are not the Jim Henson Muppets you knew and loved as children. These Puppets are strictly for grownups.
Puppet Up: Uncensored is the brainchild of Brian Henson (son of the late Jim Henson) and Patrick Bristow, and it was conceived as a vehicle to showcase the naughtier side of The Henson Company.

The premise is simple: it features six puppeteers who are also skilled improvisational artists, with Bristow serving as a very funny (if slightly over the top) host. The puppeteers perform in full view so you can watch the behind-the-scenes magic that goes into creating the puppets’ incredible movements, but there are also giant video screens which allow a traditional viewing experience like you would see on television.
Using audience suggestions pulled together by Bristow, they create skits based on current events and local politics, as well as many topics that could be considered ‘taboo’ (dildo factories, anyone?). The audience is encouraged to get as involved as their comfort level will permit, and every time a new skit begins Bristow asks everyone to shout “Puppet Up!”.

The group of six puppeteers (Grant Baciocco, Ted Michaels, Michael Oosterom, Colleen Smith, Peggy Etra and Brian Clark) are solid performers and demonstrate a keen ability to think on their feet while also having to master more than eighty different puppets throughout the course of the evening. They tackle the often “adult” subject matter with just the right amount of droll humour, and interact well with guest volunteers from the audience.

For a group of people who aren’t from Toronto, they also did a fine job showcasing skits with a local flair. Mayor Rob Ford became the butt of many jokes, including a hilarious skit that featured him performing ballet in the middle of gay pride, as well as ample crack cocaine references which fuelled one of the best musical numbers of the evening.
The improvisational skits flowed well and were nicely connected by Cameron Zetty’s skilled lighting, which helped transport us to the various ‘settings’ that were chosen by the audience and also worked to create the magic that allowed us to see and not see the puppeteers simultaneously.
But even if R-rated puppets aren’t really your cup of tea, there are two great reasons to see the show: “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Your Face” and “Java”. These skits are vintage recreations from Henson’s past (1956 and 1965 respectively), and are appropriately nostalgic while also being funny and touching. Their stunning simplicity provided the right amount of contrast to the more vulgar and chaotic portions of the evening.
Brian Henson may have created Puppet Up: Uncensored as a new way to showcase his father’s trademark humour, but if you are a fan of the work The Henson Company has done over the last nearly seven decades, you will likely appreciate the nostalgia more than anything. Go for the topical laughs, but leave with a deeper appreciation of not only these puppeteers great skill, but Jim Henson’s incredible legacy.

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