'Beastie's Birthday Party' puppet musical opens May 4

'Beastie's Birthday Party' puppet musical opens May 4

May 3rd, 2012 by Emily Crisman in Community Signal mountain

The cast of "Beastie's Birthday Party" rehearses for the puppet musical, which opens Friday, May 4 at 7 p.m. From left are Eleanor Bryan, Shelby Holcombe, Allie Pearse, director Colleen Laliberte, Michelle Holcombe, Garrison and Madi Clower, Ben Holcombe and Koty Pearse. Photo by Emily Crisman

Celebrate "Beastie's Birthday Party," the first puppet musical to be performed at the Mountain Arts Community Center, opening Friday, May 4 at 7 p.m. Matinee shows are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, May 5 and 6 at 2 p.m. and include an opportunity for attendees to take a full backstage tour, see how the puppets work and make their own puppet after the show for $2 extra, said the show's director Colleen Laliberte.

The theme of the show is that every day is a day to celebrate, she said.

"[Beastie] just moved into the neighborhood and is trying to make friends, so he throws himself a surprise birthday party," she said. "It's such a sweet story with such delightful, charming characters."

"Beastie's Birthday Party" features a script and original music written by local puppeteer Fred Arnold, the mastermind behind the Oak Street Playhouse's 50 years of puppet shows. When Arnold went into retirement two years ago, "Beastie" and the "The Bluebird," which Laliberte purchased and will present around the holidays, were the only two shows left intact.

She said Arnold sold the pieces from his other shows separately and donated the money to First Centenary United Methodist, which housed the Oak Street Playhouse. Laliberte has gathered a few of these puppets from their scattered owners to display at the reception following the show on opening night.

For those who have seen one of Arnold's shows, his puppets in all their intricate detail are immediately recognizable, said Laliberte, a former Oak Street performer.

Arnold originally wrote "Beastie" sometime in the late '50s to early '60s to be performed on an outdoor stage at the Plum Nelly festival on Lookout Mountain, she said. He reworked the script to be performed on three stages, allowing for more scene changes, as well as composed all-new music for the MACC production.

He presented Laliberte with full-color renderings of the characters, and they made the puppets together one-by-one over a four-month period.

"He wanted me to know how to do it every step of the way so I could continue to make puppets," she said. "This is my first experience making puppets with this much articulation."

Many of the cast members operating the puppets are children who have performed in other theatrical productions directed by Laliberte and are experiencing a professional puppet show for the first time.

"This is a wonderful introduction for young puppeteers," she said. "They're taking it seriously. They want to have that level of professionalism and the dedication it takes to create this magic."

Most of the puppets occasionally require more than one person to operate.

"There's a lot to be manipulated," said Laliberte. "It takes a lot of rehearsal."

Beastie involves three puppeteers: one to work the head and mouth, another for the arms and one for the tail.

"The tail is very much a character in the story," said Laliberte. "It has a mind of its own."

The show is performed to a recorded soundtrack mastered by sound engineer (and voice of Constable Cat) Joe Holmes, with the assistance of Alan Ledford and Michael Huseman.

The puppets are brought to life with the voices of local actors which may be recognizable to those who have seen other theater productions on the mountain or Oak Street Playhouse shows, said Laliberte.

Rob Inman is the voice of Groundhog, with his wife Glenna speaking for Ms. Rabbit. Rhonda Catanzaro is the voice of Miss Mouse, and Mike Sayne, a student of Arnold's and a former Oak Street performer, is Mr. Mole. Ray Laliberte lends his voice to Postman Possum, and Kim Thompson serves as the voice of Beastie.

Show time

The MACC is at 809 Kentucky Ave. To purchase tickets ($5) or to reserve a spot for a backstage tour and puppet making ($7, includes admission to the show) call 886-1959.

Puppeteers include Eleanor Bryan as Postman Possum, Allie Pearse as Constable Cat, Shelby Holcombe and Skyler Brauneis as Mr. Mole, Michelle Holcombe as Beastie's arms, Garrison Clower as Beastie's head, Ben Holcombe as Beastie's tail, Madi Clower as Miss Mouse and Koty Pearse as Mr. Groundhog.