Everybody loves puppets!
That’s why using them to tell the story of a 20-something struggling through dating and finding a partner that isn’t a complete muppet is a genius concept. I couldn’t have imagined the brilliance that Olivia Ruggiero has created in ‘Puppets’, and the best part is, the experiences and stories told are very relatable.
Ruggiero’s story is familiar, but the choice of having familiar puppets standing in for her previous romantic partners creates so much joy, that the darker aspects of the relationships have a softer padding.
Ruggiero’s voice is also amazing. I’m still surprised someone so tiny could have such a big voice. It’s going to sound cliched, but my mouth actually dropped as she sung, ‘I Dreamed a Dream’. I’ve seen Les Misérables so many times, but I can say with all sincerity that Ruggiero’s impressive performance was up there with other performers tackling the song. On the flip side of this, was her performance of ‘Screw Loose’ from the Cry-Baby musical, performed hilariously and to near perfection showing Ruggiero’s musical and comedic talents.
Ruggiero is the only vocalist on stage, but she does sing through another puppet for the Bruno Mars song ‘Marry You’. Now this isn’t a ventriloquist act, but the puppets that Ruggiero plays through are characters in their own right.
I’ve seen people use childhood characters to tackle adult themes before, and it’s always made me roll my eyes. Making Cookie Monster say a profanity or sexual joke has been done to death. So, I’m grateful that this show has been done differently.
Ruggiero doesn’t use these characters for shock value, they’re just stand ins for previous romantic partners in Ruggiero’s life, with Oscar the Grouch being the biggest shock as he’s the stand in for a British gaslighter. There are moments during ‘Puppets’ where the content can be really heartbreaking. This should be given as a testament to how lovable Ruggiero is, she’s as incredible performer with a voice and personality so much bigger than the small stage of The Butterfly Club. The venue was perfect anyway, because it was so wonderful to have such an intimate setting for what turned out to be such a personal performance.
The only other human that Ruggiero shares the stage with is talented pianist Charlotte Leaman, who has a polar opposite stage presence to Ruggiero. However, the few interactions they do have are funny and genuine.
Now, onto the puppets – 6 of our favourite Sesame Street characters are featured. Some have their personality as we know it matched to one of her partners. It’s a nice little shorthand, as we already have some idea of the characters’ personalities, so using them as a proxy for a real human just made the storytelling so much easier. What made me so happy was that these weren’t just adult versions of characters we already knew, Ruggiero used her personal experience with these people to fully flesh them out, so each character was fully realised.
Ruggiero’s charisma and talents could have easily filled a large stage, but it was amazing to see her in such a small setting because she could interact with the audience and then us back with her. Including for instance, flirting with crowd members to convey her search for love… or lust. It’s rare to see a performer not be afraid to be silly in the way Ruggiero lets herself be.
‘Puppets’ is so joyous, clever, and charming, containing a natural talent for storytelling and song in Ruggiero, where she doesn’t seem to be afraid of being the proud and wonderful theatre nerd that she is.
‘Puppets’ was performed at Melbourne’s The Butterfly Club from the 11th of July to the 16th.
While the season is over, the show is touring internationally and is headed to Edinburgh, Scotland next.
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