Milo the Magnificent Coming to Columbia Marionette Theatre This Weekend with a Special Friday Evening Performance


When asked to describe puppet act, “Milo the Magnificent,” along with the duo behind the magic, Alex & Olmsted (Alex Vernon and Sarah Olmsted Thomas), artist director for the Columbia Marionette Theater, Lyon Hill, captures the moment with three enchanting words: Charming, uplifting and playful.


“Milo the Magnificent” is a puppet performance starring an aspiring magician, Milo.  While Milo never uses dialogue, he consistently shows emotion throughout the production in the form of expression, engaging the audience without the use of language.  Alex & Olmsted, the duo behind the production, bring a unique spin to their use of innovative puppetry, according to Hill:


“Their work features a unique style of puppetry that draws from animation and cartooning.  The character Milo never speaks, but expresses a wide variety of emotion through interchangeable facial expressions.  At CMT (Columbia Marionette Theater), we like to showcase inventive puppetry, so I was keen to bring them to Columbia.”


That’s right! This one-of-a-kind production, “Milo the Magnificent,” will be featured in Columbia at CMT, one of only two guest artist brought to CMT per year.  As a show for all ages, this is one to bring amusement, entertainment and excitement to all.


The production will run on Friday, November 16th at 7 p.m. and Saturday, November 17th at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.  Ticket cost is $5 per guest, ages 2 and up.


The Friday evening performance is a unique one, as CMT typically does not put on evening productions; however, Milo the Magnificent will run one time on Friday evening, giving guest the opportunity to experience the show in all its glory.  A true, magical experience.


“The Friday evening show performance in an opportunity to see the show in a slightly different setting,” Hill says of the 7:00 p.m. production, “The theater darkens a bit more, there are no birthday parties, it gives the artist a chance to really shine.”


As for Hill’s personal favorite aspect of the performance: “It is a well realized production. The music, humor and style all merge perfectly.”


Come see for yourself!


To experience Milo and his magic, grab those close to you and come out to Columbia Marionette Theater this weekend to get a taste of Alex & Olmsted’s, “Milo the Magnificent,” and all of the unique and fun entertainment that this production has to offer!


For more information on the duo behind the act, visit:

—Hallie Hayes

Jake Margle Offers a Run-Down on Artsy Halloween Events

The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli As Halloween approaches the Capitol City, venues and various stomping grounds are rolling out their festive best. From Columbia’s modest holes-in-the-wall to our more grandiose institutions, here are just a few of the smattering of events taking place on this Hallo-weekend.


The Tapp’s Center prides itself on tasteful, informing events, and their Halloween special is no different. On Friday they will be hosting Hell’s Belle’s, an event that will combine art–both visual and performing–and discussion. The evening starts at 7 and will be dedicated to exploring and showcasing the history of witchcraft, with the discussion centered around, “exploring feminine identity.” Columbia’s own Ritual Abjects will be conducting a sigil workshop and performance piece. There will be tarot and palm readings as well. Costumes are not mandatory, but encouraged. All donations from the evening will go towards the Tapp’s Nonprofit Programming and Auntie Bellum magazine, SC’s women’s magazine.


Toast Improv is putting on a special Halloween show, Friday at the Benson Theater. Doors open at 8:30 to a $5 cover. The show starts at 9, and according to Toast’s Facebook page, will be very “spoopy”–a term meaning comedic and spooky. Concessions will be provided, and if you know anything about Toast, so will the talent and laughs. Those weary of a cover charge will be pleased to know that all proceeds will be donated to aid the flood relief efforts in Columbia.


On Saturday the State Museum will again be hosting its annual Tricks and Treats gathering. If you’re looking for a more kid-friendly offering, look no further. All day the museum will be hosting a scavenger hunt, potions lab, crafts, balloon art, and a performance of “Hansel and Gretel” by the Columbia Marionette Theatre. Costumes are encouraged as well, with any child under 12 and in costume receiving $1 off admission.


2015 marks the fourth year of Sid & Nancy’s Halloween Explosion. A dance-filled evening starting at 8:30 on Saturday at New Brookland Tavern is sure to put anyone in a festive mood. Music will be provided by local DJ’s Alejandro Florez, Christian Barker, and QT Kapowski. Fort Psych, Columbia’s event and media gurus will supplementing the music with light displays as well. There will be a photo booth set up, so bring your costume game. The two most creative costumes will receive gift certificates to Indigo Rose Tattoo Studio, with first place winning a $100 credit, second place receiving a $60 credit. Those fearful of standing need not worry, as the “most basic” will receive a $10 gift card to Starbucks, and a $20 gift card to Target. There will be a $5 cover for those 21 and up, $10 for under 21. All proceeds will benefit Girls Rock Columbia.


The Whig is hosting the aptly and creatively named Whigoween Saturday at 9. Columbia’s favorite hidden gem is keeping tight-lipped on the details, but costumes are most definitely encouraged.

And there's always the Columbia City Ballet's performance of Draculapreviewed earlier this week by Alivia Seely.

-- Jake Margle

A String Lesson in Compassion: A Review of "Beauty and the Beast" at Columbia Marionette Theatre by Arik Bjorn

On the heels of the Columbia Marionette Theatre’s technically and visually stunning production of Hansel and Gretel comes another tale of dark forest puppetry straight from the classic fairytale canon:  Beauty and the Beast. There is hardly a child alive—or adult for the matter—who associates this children’s fantasy with anything other than Disney’s bookworm Princess Belle and the behemoth Beast, which seems inspired from a Klingon on steroids.  About the only original concept Mickey Mouse & Co. retained in its animated film are the mid-eighteenth-century French origins of the story.  CMT artistic director Lyon Forrest Hill and writer-director John Scollon once again reclaims the forgotten origins of timeless children’s storytelling, and with a few musical numbers of their own, remind us that La Belle et la Bête is first and foremost a moral tale—not a song and dance routine with perfect pitch, jazz hands silverware.

Well aware of the attention span of the average tot, Scollon perfectly condenses the tale of the selfish, spellbound prince and the selfless merchant and his daughter into a perfect hour of weekend entertainment.  On a proverbial dark and stormy night, a prince, expecting his latest date at the palace door, instead comes face-to-face with an old hag whom he refuses to grant shelter.  The hag reveals her magical self, and converts the nobleman into a pectoral-heavy satyr, and his footman Radcliffe into a cheese-mongering, pudgy rodent, now Ratcliffe.  In this state they will remain until the master of the estate learns a life-changing lesson about compassion.  (At this point, parents are wishing this would actually happen to most hedge fund managers.)

Meanwhile, a woebegone merchant “in a nearby neck of the woods” receives a singing telegram from a seaman informing him that his poverty has come to an end:  his ship, the S.S. Porcupine, has finally docked at port laden with foreign goods.  The merchant’s daughter, Grace, asks her father to pick out the entire Tiffany catalog on his journey to claim his fortune.  The more modest daughter, Beauty, expresses that she will be content with just a single rose.  That rose, of course, becomes the crux upon which Beauty will eventually sacrifice herself, becoming an indentured guest in her entrapped father’s place at the Beast’s enchanted castle.  Finally, the prince learns his lesson about judging others by their outward appearance, and is allowed to trade his hooves for his feet, and gets a storybook wedding ending, to boot.  (Could there possibly be a more relevant 21st-century fairytale—even for hedge fund managers?)

The production is replete with technical highlights that will delight both children and adults, including an abracadabra buffet table and vanity, a sartorial dance number with dazzling gowns, and the magical prince portrait behind which the beast both conceals and reveals himself to those who dare enter his domain, and which is a critical leitmotif children will later encounter in every 1930s horror movie and episode of Scooby-Doo.  While the beast is a truly delightful feat of puppetry monstrousness, CMT should be even more proud of its Beauty creation; she is the spitting image of a young Kim Basinger.   CMT always puts as much creative effort into designing its sets as it does its marionettes; of note are set painter Carolyn Merkel’s Osiris-eye stain glass windows and swirling blue-green forest backdrop, as well as the miniature castle model and character figurines which maintain kiddie attention spans during set changes.

Beauty and the Beast is a must-see show for parents seeking an affordable, high-quality entertainment option on weekends this spring.  The show also provides an open door for parents to teach their children “the real” fairytale classics.  And remember:  Columbia Marionette Theatre provides field trip and birthday party options for larger groups of children.  CMT is an arts community jewel and once again has earned our support.

Beauty and the Beast runs until March 16 with performances every Saturday at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.  Tickets are $5 per person.  Children under 2 are free!  The Columbia Marionette Theatre is located at 401 Laurel Street (corner of Huger and Laurel).  Call 252.7366 for more information or to reserve party space for your little ones.  To learn more about Columbia Marionette Theatre, visit .

Special note to parents:  There is something important about the soft edge of darkness and fear of marionette theatre.  Stringed puppet shows are no less a rite of childhood passage than roller coasters and midway funhouses.  But as parents, we sometimes forget that the diminutive marionettes are as large as, or larger than, the little audience members sitting segregated from adults in the first few rows.  As a suggestion, if you are bringing your little one to CMT for the first time, it would not be a bad idea to arm him or her with a little penlight or an open hand for comfort during the first few minutes.  Fret not:  your child will quickly become an audience veteran and become engrossed in the narrative.  Yet thinking about this in advance may help to avoid disturbing other children trying to follow the show closely.

~ Arik Bjorn



"Hansel & Gretel" at Columbia Marionette Theatre: A Sweet Artistic Triumph - a Review by Arik Bjorn

Dorothy Parker once reviewed a play that was so incompetent in all aspects, that she decided to leave most of her newspaper column space newspaper blank, stating that the production did not even deserve typeset words.  Nothing could be more opposite with respect to deserved accolades than Columbia Marionette Theatre’s latest production, Hansel & Gretel.  Artistic Director Lyon Hill has created something so phenomenal and unique that I was tempted to write the entire review in 100-point font.  However, recognizing that giant block letters might not be a preference for the average online reader, I will offer a single, megalithic, lexical frieze to frame my review:



As I have written in previous reviews, what I appreciate most about the CMT mission — and executive direction John Scollon should be applauded for this — is that it eschews the glamourized, Walt Disney fairytale and clings to the tried-and-true philosophy of edge-of-your-seat, Grimm storytelling.  And what better tale to present (especially in the month of hobgoblins and pumpkins) than one which seems to have been universally ignored by the animated children’s fantasy industry:  Hansel & Gretel.

My four-year-old daughter Kat plied me with questions about the story on the way to the theatre; she had never even heard the title.  The only factoid I would let slip is that there was likely to be a house made out of candy.  As one can imagine, that was enough to set her imagination’s hook.  But not even I was prepared for the sumptuousness of what CMT had prepared for patrons of all ages.

Upon crossing the dragon’s head threshold, even theatregoers who have attended multiple CMT productions will immediately realize there is something unique about this production.  A large, curved film screen covers center stage, and there is something oddly cartoon-esque about the set.  This was intentional; director Hill drew expertly on the classic black-and-white animation of the Fleischer Brothers (Betty Boop, Popeye, Koko the Clown) as inspiration for his set and marionette characters.  This is especially telling in the rounded qualities of the puppet faces, and in their oblong eyes; in fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen marionettes which seemed so eerily alive.

Hansel and Gretel deep in the forest

The show begins with an immediate departure from the traditional Hansel & Gretel tale.  Both the poor woodcutter and his wife absolutely adore their children.  The reason for this welcome twist may be that Hill wrote the story as a special dedication to his young son, Oliver.  A dreaded wood filled with ghosts and boy-eating witches is one thing, but no child should have to endure the added torture of an abusive stepmother.  Yet despite being the candied apples of their parent’s eyes, there’s only so much roasted boot a la tongue any child can endure.  Following Hansel’s retelling of ‘The Tale of the Three Thieves’ — in which the stage is expanded with computer animation, and puppeteers Cooper Hill, Payton Frawley and Lyon Hill enthrall the audience with precisely-timed shadow puppetry — audience members soon find themselves in familiar territory:  at play in the field of the pastry-bread home with strawberry shortcake shutters.


A reviewer really could wax on and on about this spectacular production.  Like the professional marionette stages in Prague, this is a show that adults without children would thoroughly enjoy.  And I truly hope that other marionette professionals around the region and nation take the opportunity to travel to Columbia to witness what is without a doubt the crowning work to date by Lyon Hill and CMT’s very talented crew.  The production also boasts an incredible original score in the vein of a Woody Allen soundtrack by David Drazin, as well as the aforementioned original animation by Wade Sellers and Jeffrey Shroyer, and the vocal talents of local actors Kevin Bush and Jenny Mae Hill.

Hansel, Gretel and Witch

My personal favorite puppet moment was the skeleton whose bones magically dislocate and reassemble during a Fred Astaire song-and-dance number.  I also loved the owl puppet set high aloft the stage as introductory narrator; I hope the owl becomes a mainstay character for future CMT productions.  (Perhaps call him Owlistair Cooke.)  Another ingenious creative choice was making the witch a haggy vulture, whose appetite for human flesh is a bit easier for children to swallow, given her carrion nature; that, and it’s a tad easier to stomach watching a bird get its just desserts by being cooked in an oven than a humanoid figure.

At one point, Hansel describes the treasure of the three thieves — upon which the brother and sister pin their hopes to save their family from poverty — as so valuable that it cannot be named.  Without a doubt, our city is home to such a valuable treasure for children’s storytelling, yet it has a name:  Columbia Marionette Theatre.  And I can only conclude in the way in which I began:  Hansel & Gretel is unlike any show CMT has ever staged; whether child or adult, you are in for an extraordinary storytelling treat.


~ Arik Bjorn

Hansel & Gretel runs until December 29 with performances every Saturday at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.  Tickets are $5 per person.  Children under 2 are free!  The Columbia Marionette Theatre is located at 401 Laurel Street (corner of Huger and Laurel).  Call 252.7366 for more information or to reserve party space for your little ones.  To learn more about Columbia Marionette Theatre, visit .

NOTE: Tuesday Oct. 9th, from 6:00 to 8:00 PM, there will be a special event in the Hallway at 701 Whaley showcasing The Art of Hansel and Gretel by Lyon Forrest Hill. Get a glimpse inside Columbia Marionette Theatre's production of Hansel and Gretel. This exhibit features conceptual art including sketches, character designs and prototype marionettes by Lyon Forrest Hill. Deliciously evil treats provided by Jenny Mae Hill. Details can be found at

Hansel and Gretel: Columbia Marionette Theatre’s new production puts an emphasis on experimentation -- A guest blog by Lyon Hill

At Jasper, we hate spam. But what we hate even more than spam is when real messages -- important messages -- get mistakenly relegated to our spam file. Grrrr.

That's what happened last week when this important guest blog by local marionette genius Lyon Hill got lost in our spam file and never saw the light of day. We just found it. Like 5 minutes ago.

But rather than throw the wooden baby puppet out with the shredded pieces of blue paper that look like bath water, we're going to go ahead and run this guest blog anyway. (And when you get to the part where Lyon is inviting you to become a part of their almost-over kickstarter campaign -- don't freak out. It was successful!)


And now, for a few words from Lyon ...

Hansel and Gretel: Columbia Marionette Theatre’s new production puts an emphasis on experimentation.

The classic Grimm’s fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel has always been a favorite of mine and I yet rarely see it adapted well. The dark forest, the lost children, the gingerbread house, the sinister witch; all of these are potent images and they are perfect for our puppet stage.

Awhile back, I began experimenting with telling this story in a look inspired by early animation; particularly the cartoons of the Fleischer brothers. They created surreal and silly Betty Boop and Popeye shorts that are still intriguing today for their humor and ingenuity. My first take on the characters can be seen in the issue of Jasper in which I am interviewed.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of working with Wade Sellers of CoalPowered Filmworks (also featured in Jasper) to create a vignette for a ‘Playing After Dark’ event. We coupled these puppets with projected computer animation and it clicked. The puppets seemed to be moving through a deep and dark, dimensional forest.

At that point, I knew we had something and we decided to flesh out the concept and put it on CMT’s main stage. I knew music would be a key factor, so I contacted Dave Drazin, who scored my short film, Junk Palace. He is an accomplished silent film accompanist and well versed in the sound of the time.

We have been hard at work bringing these diverse elements together. While there is still much left to be done, I am excited by the progress so far. One of the things I am most pleased with is the warmth and humor. While we do deliver on a spooky forest and a nasty witch, the show has been written with a very young audience in mind. I think children will connect with the characters of Hansel and Gretel, and the whole family will find it enjoyable.

CMT traditionally creates almost entirely in-house, so we have created a kickstarter  fundraising campaign to offset the expenses of hiring collaborators. While we have had many generous offers of donations, we are only a couple of days away with more money to raise.

We have tried to make the rewards enticing, so please have a look and consider contributing to this unique project. In any case, please come see the show, opening September 22 and running through the end of the year. We have performances every Saturday at 11am and 3pm, as well as the third Monday of each month at 10 am.

Lyon Hill is the art director and puppetmaker at the Columbia Marionette Theatre.


401 Laurel St

Columbia, SC 29201



Avenue Q at Trustus Theatre - A Review

Avenue Q, the new summer show now running at Trustus Theatre, is a lively, witty, naughty musical romp through the challenges of young adulthood in the big city, told via catchy, silly, bouncy songs, performed by puppets. Well, by live actors, four of whom give voice and life to a number of Muppet-style hand puppets.  For sheer escapism and entertainment, you absolutely will not be disappointed by this triple Tony winner that ran for over six years in New York, and still thrives and prospers off-Broadway today.

With music and lyrics by creators Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, and book by Jeff Whitty, Avenue Q  follows the adventures of recent college grad Princeton, an archetypal naïf looking for his meaning in life... or perhaps just a job, and a cheap place to live, which he finds in the low-rent zone of Avenue Q.  Princeton is Everyman (or Everypuppet) at 22, and this theme has been explored countless times over the years, in films like How to Marry a Millionaire, musicals like How to Succeed in Business, and even the current HBO series Girls.  The show's brilliance lies in its reinvention of the coming-of-age genre, using multi-colored felt and cloth puppets, especially since the impression conveyed is that we are seeing the familiar Sesame Street characters all grown up, and having to confront the realities and responsibilities of maturity.  A disclaimer in the program makes it clear that there is no actual connection to any Jim Henson creations or properties; one imagines that at this stage, Elmo, Kermit and friends are such cultural icons that they classify as public figures, and therefore fair game for parody and satire.  Unlike the Muppets, however, the audience actually sees each performer skillfully manipulating his or her diminutive alter-ego, and so the relevant expressions and emotions are visible on the live actor's face as well.  All are attractive and talented, causing one to want to follow them on stage, but just as much attention needs to be paid to the puppets, who are the actual characters.

Performing Princeton, Kevin Bush finds just the right tone to seem sympathetic, yet still a bit of an immature tool.  A subplot revolving around an ambiguous pair of roommates (think Bert and Ernie) features Bush as Rod, an uptight and closeted yuppie banker whose nose and eye design are as phallic as his name.  Rod's denial of his sexuality and feelings for his best friend become increasingly ludicrous, culminating in a stream-of-consciousness musical fabrication about an imaginary girlfriend, from Canada, named Alberta, who lives in... ummm... Vancouver.  The ever-youthful Bush could really have played either of these roles quite believably in a "normal" play; I do wish there were a bit more distinction in their voices, especially since between the two characters, he has at least 50% of the dialogue in the show.  Still, he's a great singer and a delight to see.

Katie Leitner as Princeton's love interest, Kate Monster, is equally appealing.  Looking back over my notes, I see at least half a dozen times where she duets with Bush or joins in a group number, and I have jotted down "beautiful harmony" or "incredible voice."  Her solo "Fine Fine Line" (a melancholy reflection on the difference between lovers and friends) could easily have been part of a "serious" musical, whereas most of the other songs replicate the sing-song style of a children's show.  With no way to really change the facial expression of the hand puppets, emotions must be conveyed by adjusting their posture or position; somehow Leitner expertly manages to depict Kate Monster as a sloppy drunk, with her hair falling into her face, and the moment is one of many comic highlights.  She also gets to create Lucy the Slut, who oozes mint-julep sultriness and temptation, with a rich deep voice an octave or so lower than Kate's.  Brien Hollingsworth also displays amazing diversity in his voice characterizations as four different characters, including Trekkie Monster (addicted to porn in lieu of cookies) and Nicky, who accepts BFF Rod's sexuality long before Rod acknowledges it.  Hollingsworth and Elisabeth Smith Baker perform Nicky together, and also appear as the Bad Idea Bears, Care Bear-like apparitions who suggest things like chugging Long Island Teas the night before an important day at work, or using funds sent from the 'rents to buy some beer, and it might as well be a case, since those are better bargains.  Baker probably does the best at recreating the perky, cartoonish voices one expects, and also helps to manipulate most of the other puppet characters when their principal portrayers are busy, e.g. she performs Lucy's movements when Leitner is performing Kate. Through some skillful choreography and misdirection, rarely can one ever tell that the principal actor is doing both voices, and this also means that Baker has to know not only her own characters' lines, but most of the rest of the script too, in order to move the puppet's mouth at the right moment, in synch with the right dialogue. The other three performers accomplish this as well, but Baker is perhaps the best at turning invisible on stage, this being that rarest of times when that's a good thing.  And did I mention that Princeton and Kate engage in some graphic puppet sex?  Well, as graphic as hand puppets who only exist from the waist up can get, but that's incredibly, and hilariously, graphic.

Just like Sesame Street, there are human characters too, similarly disillusioned 20-somethings, played by G. Scott Wild, Annie Kim, and Devin Anderson.  While these characters are never fully developed, the performers are excellent, and their voices blend beautifully with the rest of the cast.  Director Chad Henderson brings the customary style that I have come to expect from his shows:  everyone is completely believable in their characters, everything moves at a lively pace, and there's never a dull moment on stage, even in transitional moments and bridging scenes.  Musical Director Randy Moore capably leads four other musicians and never once drowns out the singers.  Danny Harrington's set is ostensibly a simplistic, child-like facade of an apartment row, but utilizes striking colors and odd angles (much like his recent set for Grease at Town Theatre) to make an attractive visual statement.  Performers frequently have to make rapid exits in time to appear as another character in an upstairs window, and I'm guessing the true extent of Harrington's design can only be appreciated from backstage, as everything seems to flow quite smoothly.   There's also a multi-media component, incorporating a tv-like screen that projects video clips (created by Aaron Johnson) and little visual lessons, in that same Sesame Street style.  The excellent puppet creations are by Lyon Hill (profiled in the cover story of the current issue of Jasper - The Word on Columbia Arts) and Karri Scollon, the result of a collaboration between Trustus and the Columbia Marionette Theatre.

Trustus of course is at a crossroads, with new leadership coming in, and the ever-present challenge to stay true to their mission (edgy shows from NY that might not be done elsewhere locally) while giving the audiences what they want (which by and large is light, frothy, silly musical comedies.)  Through some happy harmonic convergence, Avenue Q  manages to do both simultaneously.  The only caveats might be:  a) however adorable the puppets may be, and however appealing the performers, the humor and language is decidedly R-rated, so consider yourself forewarned, or titillated in advance, as the case may be; and  b) the score is quite catchy and eminently hummable, but no moreso (and no less) than any good Muppet Show song.  As above, coming-of-age stories are nothing new, and have been depicted musically as recently as March's Passing Strange, which was wildly popular among most artists, musicians and theatre folks I know. For me, however, Avenue Q  is the most entertaining production I've seen at Trustus in years, and certainly the best show I've seen locally since Victor/Victoria  at Workshop some 15 months ago.  Retelling  fundamental and timeless themes using a new, unexpected, yet also familiar story-telling technique is simply a stroke of genius, and you owe it to yourself to take a trip down to Avenue Q.

Avenue Q runs through Sat. July 21st; contact the Trustus box office at 803-254-9732 for ticket information.

~ August Krickel

(Photo credit - Bonnie Boiter-Jolley)

No Lie! CMT's Pinocchio Is Anything But A Wooden Performance - A Guest Blog by Arik Bjorn

There is no entertainment venue in Columbia more likely to have fallen straight out of the pages of a Ray Bradbury story than the Columbia Marionette Theatre, which this past weekend revived its wonderful 1992 original production of Pinocchio.  Even for adults, there is something magically inviting about the castle theatre ensconced at the corner of Huger and Laurel Streets, its giant mural of Punch, puppet-turned-puppeteer, dangling a stringed unicorn and dragon, and inviting children of all ages to rediscover authentic, if not shadowy, storytelling.  The best part of any CMT production is a stiff refusal to cater to the “Mickey Mouse-ification” of fairy tales, and the insistence that a peppering of Brothers Grimm in every scene is a recipe for narrative pleasure. At the age of four, my daughter Katherine is already a CMT veteran, having attended numerous productions.  She accompanied me to this weekend’s premier of Pinocchio, and I have made every effort to review the show from her diminutive perspective.  Sometimes the best part of parenting is rediscovering familiar stories through the eyes of one’s children - and also through their arms and legs, as on numerous occasions throughout the production her hands were wrapped tightly around my arms or her own face, her feet bouncing up and down with uncontrollable delight and fear.

Every CMT show begins well before Artistic Director Lyon Hill (profiled in the cover story in the current issue - # 5 -  of Jasper - The Word on Columbia Arts) emerges from backstage to lead the crowd in a birthday “Huzzah!” for whatever little boy or girl is lucky enough to host a dinosaur-, fairy tale-, or Wizard the Oz-themed birthday party.  Just getting your youngster from the lobby to his or her general admission seat is worth the price of admission.  Children enter the theatre’s faux archway main entrance, and are immediately surrounded by marionettes hanging from the ceiling and puppeteer dioramas from previous CMT productions, as well as a large mounted dragon head that once was the centerpiece of a real Medieval-themed wedding at CMT.  (By the way, parents, CMT offers a number of affordable “starter” marionettes for the novice puppeteers in your home.)

Inevitably, one or two children begin whimpering or looking cautiously askance before the show even starts, as does my child occasionally still.  It’s no lie that there is something naturally eerie about marionettes.  For the past several generations, our puppet-viewing collective consciousness consists mostly of cuddly Muppets, and the lack of softness of form of the traditional marionette immediately bespeaks more funhouse than Sesame Street.  But this is precisely the world of lost storytelling that marionette theatres engender.  CMT makes all of its marionettes on site in its workshop from hand-carved molds.  As Hill explains, he is not interested in smoothing the pin-prickly scary parts of a story, or conforming to pop culture’s sense of how a genie, T-Rex or mermaid should be physically represented:  “Every marionette has is its own silhouette.”

While patrons will not find Jiminy Cricket in this production of Pinocchio, what they will find is something that would make the story’s original Italian teller, Carlo Collodi, proud—plus a few inventive 21st-century twists, including a break-dancing wooden boy and a jazz-duet cat and fox.  And, of course, like any good children’s story, there are a few jokes just for adults, including the “BELIEVE” UFO poster on the dilapidated backstage wall of Boyaradi’s Fabulous Marionette Theatre, and a sign outside the theater that reads “Come Inside for Fun, Excitement and Man-Eating Plants.”

The show is a panoply of theatrical creativity.  In one early scene, the Fairy’s wand, with a mind of its own, causes all the puppets in Geppetto’s studio to dance unexpectedly.  The set drops of 19th-century Italy and the Isle of Joy (replete with its own cherry-topped sundae mountain), as well as Geppetto’s studio, are museum-worthy pieces.  And in one of the final scenes, Pinocchio and his papa emerge from the belly of the whale and rise magically to the ocean surface.  (I am willing to bet that every child who sees this show afterward will dream mystically of water gobos.)


This 45-minute version of Pinocchio is jam-packed with wonderful storytelling and numerous artistic and design triumphs, including, of course, the one trick both children and adults eagerly await to see:  the title character’s famous fibbing proboscis.  Several times after the performance, my daughter asked me how Pinocchio’s nose grew.  Fortunately, when I replied “magic,” my own nose remained its normal length.  But for the life of me, I have no idea how Hill & Company make that nose extend and retract with only strings!  (By the way, someone should give CMT a medal for understanding that 45 minutes is the ideal duration for a weekend children’s event.)

Along with Hill, puppeteers Kimi Maeda, Cooper Hill and Payton Frawley bring this timeless classic to life; not quite to the point where a little wooden boy is turned into the real thing, but definitely enough for you to tell everyone you know with kids to get down to the Columbia Marionette Theatre next Saturday.  And when all the dusty wonder has settled, most important of all, children walk away having learned a real moral lesson.  Just ask my daughter, who told me, “The lesson is always tell the truth and stay close to your papa - or else you’ll be turned into a donkey or eaten by a whale.”  Close enough, dear one, close enough.

~ by Arik Bjorn

Pinocchio runs through Sat. Sept. 8th, with performances every Saturday at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.  Tickets are $5 per person.  Children under 2 are free!  The Columbia Marionette Theatre is located at 401 Laurel Street (corner of Huger and Laurel).  Call 803-252-7366 for more information, or to reserve party space for your little ones.  To learn more about Columbia Marionette Theatre, visit .