Over the past decade, Jonathan Rockefeller has made puppetry his calling card and the primary focus of Rockefeller Productions, the company he runs with his husband, Wilson.
“There are a lot of interesting shows that we do with all different styles of puppets,” Rockefeller says. “as bizarre as The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show all the way up to Disney’s Winnie the Pooh.”
Yet one show stands out in the company’s roster, one with special appeal to audiences of a certain age and persuasion. “The tagline is, ‘Calling all girls, gays, and grannies,’ because that’s who love that show,” Rockefeller says, referring to That Golden Girls Show!: A Puppet Parody.
The show is styled as a three-episode binge, with each episode following an individual storyline and comprised of specific moments and scenarios from the hit sitcom but repackaged in “a mashup parody” style for heightened comedic effect. And it’s all performed by puppets and puppeteers.
“We’re just really going into what are the tropes and the jokes…and amplifying what is the essence of the characters and bringing that out further,” he says. “So our Rose is a bit ditzier. Our Blanche is more promiscuous than the others. Our Dorothy is a lot more straight-laced and has those brilliant, cutting, sarcastic lines that just filter through. And our Sophia is a lot naughtier.”
The parody came to life in Rockefeller’s native Australia as part of ther annual Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. That version of the show was “delivered as a stand-up routine in a comedy club [on a] stage the size of an envelope, [making] scene changes incredibly hard.”
Eventually, a more elaborate, revamped version of the parody made its way to New York and a hit run Off Broadway in 2016. The show has since toured the country and beyond. Right now, it’s on the last leg of a national tour that will culminate in a triumphant return to Off Broadway for a month-long run ending Memorial Day Weekend. “We just felt that after Betty White’s passing, it was appropriate to give a final farewell,” Rockefeller says.
A big part of what makes this particular puppet parody so entertaining is watching the savvy puppeteers at work. “It is really wonderful to see the interplay between the performer and the puppet, and how they mirror exactly what they’re feeling,” says Rockefeller. “Or sometimes they do the exact opposite for comedic effect.”
Among the four performers in the farewell cast, seen during a February tour stop at Strathmore, the most memorable impersonation by far is Dylan Glick’s Dorothy. Glick is the only male puppeteer of the lot, which has become something of a show tradition.
“It’s so much funnier if [Dorothy] is played by a man,” Rockefeller says. “Bea Arthur had a tremendous stage presence and voice, and it just adds that extra bit of comedy.”
And, he says of Glick, “his portrayal of Dorothy is brilliant. The way that he delivers those wry, sarcastic lines, it’s just fantastic.”
That Golden Girls Show!: A Puppet Parody will stop in Wisconsin, Illinois, Texas, Wyoming, and Colorado before returning to New York on April 29, at Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St. Visit www.bfany.org or www.thatgoldengirlsshow.com for more information.
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