Puppets: When we were little, they often amazed us. Shows such as Sesame Street and Punch and Judy effortlessly held our attention with magical moving figurines.
Despite their long success with children, puppets do not have that much of an audience with older crowds — Jim Henson might have captured the imagination of millions with his Muppets, but he’s firmly in the realm of the exceptional.
Before The Muppets film came out last year, people hadn’t heard much from the seminal series in years, let alone any other mainstream puppet-based entertainment.
Part of the reason? The disbelief of mature audiences is much harder to suspend. It’s simply much more difficult to make adults forget there is a hand in the puppet long enough for them to enjoy the narrative.
The Bob Baker Marionette Theater understands this. It also knows who the bread-and-butter audience is: children.
Performers grab hold of the childrens’ imaginations firmly and put on a show so good-hearted that it works through that pesky suspension of disbelief.
But sometimes adults can enjoy these old-fashioned shows too.
The Bob Baker Marionette Theater has opened another run of Fiesta, a show that the legendary establishment has featured on and off since it opened 50 years ago.
Fiesta’s age, however, doesn’t show in its content. Flying blue-lit skeletons, egg-laying ostriches, juggling clowns and ice-skating men with oversized sombreros come out one after the other. Fiesta fully embraces its childlike spirit — something essential for a show this irreverent to work.
Eschewing the usual puppet show format, which involves a stage tall enough to hide the puppeteers, the handlers of Fiesta’s characters walk with them in full view, letting the puppets interact directly with the mostly young patrons.
It’s obvious the youngest attendees, watching in amazement at the singing parrot sitting on their lap, forget that the puppeteers are right in front of them. And part of Fiesta’s appeal is that the puppeteers choose not to hide.
Fiesta does not aim for your disbelief. It’s a show that wants your love and respect, from the joy in the performances to the skill with which they are executed. The show also aims to please your stomach; included with every ticket is free ice cream after the show.
Bob Baker established the theater 50 years ago after touring with his puppets, and one of his first shows was Fiesta. Living up to its name, the show celebrates Hispanic culture in a way only a children’s puppet show can. Dancing cacti, Día de Los Muertos skeletons flying across a suddenly darkened room and an adorably charming rendition of “The Hat I Got for Christmas is Too Big” show off very clever marionette work.
The characters seem to have all been perfected over the years, and Fiesta progresses like a wonderful technicolor locomotive. There’s perfect timing between each skit, with many of the show’s talented performers transitioning perfectly from one role to another.
Unfortunately, until someone starts an über-innovative puppet show like the one in Being John Malkovich, marionette shows will remain a mostly unheralded and unseen sector of the performing arts, relegated primarily to younger audiences.
Bob Baker’s Marionette Theater comes close, appealing to audiences of all ages.
In any given show, the majority of spectators will be children and their parents because that is, in general, who will appreciate the magic of Fiesta the most. The charm of the show, however, is definitely not reserved for younger audiences.
If any evidence is needed for that claim, here’s this: there were two other college-aged groups of guys and girls in attendance that day, laughing and enjoying themselves among the kids.
And this attention from motley audience members is well deserved. The creative force that Baker infused into this show, as well as the infectious passion of its cast, is obvious. And the creativity and experienced showmanship that Fiesta’s skits contain give the production a standing far better than that of a simple childrens’ show.