Richardson — It’s always odd to be the neophyte amongst true believers. But so I found myself sitting in the audience for That Golden Girls Show!: A Puppet Parody at the Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts, listening to fans in “Stay Golden” fan shirts swapping their favorite one liners from the series. Not to say I’ve never seen the show — I and a lot of my cohort grew up on Nick at Nite, after all, and Betty White’s longevity (both in pop culture and sheer chronology) has done a lot to keep the show in the zeitgeist. So even if I may have missed some nudge-nudge, wink-wink inside joke, there was still a lot to enjoy about this raucous, affectionate tribute to Rose, Blanche, Dorothy, and the indomitable Sophia, in puppet form.
Staged on a set that lovingly recreates the rattan and palm tree aesthetic of the series, the piece is separated into three “episodes,” complete with time period-appropriate commercial breaks, which co-creators Jonathan Rockefeller and Thomas Duncan-Watt wrote as a sort of “second season” after the success of the show’s initial run off-Broadway in 2016. Implicitly acknowledging the iconic nature of the performances — what human performer could ever measure up? — the girls are portrayed by intricately detailed, exaggerated puppet avatars (created by Rockefeller Productions), and voiced and operated by a talented quartet of performers.
Southern Belle Blanche was sashayed across the stage by actress Erin Ulman, who nailed the “Georgia Peach with a-pack-a-day habit” voice and voracious sexuality of the character. Her sharp-as-nails repartee with Casey Andrews’ blunt, dry-witted Dorothy won the biggest laughs of the night, with Andrews displaying a pitch-perfect sense of comic timing. Meggie Doyle’s Rose is appropriately dim, but peppy, with a dead-on Midwestern accent. And, if her Brooklyn accent might have wandered a bit, Ashley Brooke did a nice job with not only her character’s gleefully cruel one-liners, but also committed physically to her little old lady persona, hobbling slowly across the stage.
All the actors, under director Michael Hull, himself a puppeteer, were incredibly deft, creating not only a fully realized character for each puppet, but matching their character’s emotions and physical actions in their own tandem performance. And the puppets themselves are a marvel; even in the Eisemann Center — not what you’d call an intimate space — the features of each puppet were clear as day, even down to the perfectly-calibrated costume choices for each character. If you can’t have the originals, this might just be the next best thing.
As for the plot, well — odds are you’ve seen the show. The girls scheme, fight, hunt for love, and hurl one-liners at each other (some sharp enough to make the audience audibly react — the original gals never pulled their punches, but these girls are going for the jugular). Blanche is reliably man-hungry, Rose tells endless tales of her childhood in the semi-mythical St. Olaf’s, Dorothy dishes out scathing criticism, and Sophia schemes to keep herself out of a nursing home. But it all ends with hugs and, of course, cheesecake. While diehard fans might be the target audience — the show’s original tagline was “calling all girls, gays, and grannies!” — newcomers will find a lot to enjoy here as well.