Poko Puppets Reviews

Review of Peter Rabbit Revue
by Peter Lewis, for Puppet Master (Puppetry Guild of Greater New York)

Review of Jack Frost Holiday Show
by Peter Lewis, for Puppet Master (Puppetry Guild of Greater New York)

Review of Making Puppets Come Alive
by Nick Coppola, for Puppet Master, (Puppetry Guild of Greater New York)

Review of Making Puppets Come Alive
by George Latshaw, for The Puppetry Journal (Puppeteers of America)

Review of Making Puppets At Home
by Nick Coppola, for Puppet Master, (Puppetry Guild of Greater New York)

Peter Rabbit Revue
Westbury Music Fair, April 22, 2000

Review by Peter Lewis.  Published in The Puppet Master, Journal of The Puppetry Guild of Greater New York, Vol 6, Number 1, September 2000.

If “theater-in-the round” suggests images of over-the-hill crooners, singing to rapt audiences of senior citizens, then Poko Puppets’ Peter Rabbit Revue will change your ideas — permanently!

Larry Engler faced a formidable challenge: restaging this show from the traditional proscenium stage, to a round one.  He succeeded, admirably.  And an audience of young families can attest to that, judging by their enthusiastic response.

This seventy-five minute show, including two intermissions, moved seamlessly. Peter and the Wolf, was followed by Tubby the Tuba, and lastly, Peer Gynt and the Trolls.  Talented actor/dancers in puppet costumes, skillfully manipulated a variety of hand, hand and rod puppets, and flat figures in black light.

Each section had its own color palette: Peter and the Wolf, in rich earth-tones; Tubby, in fluorescent colors; Peer Gynt, in bright, springtime hues.  A delightful “Easter Parade” number brought an array of puppets onstage, carried overhead.  The puppets were adorned with Easter bonnets — each more colorful and zany than the next!

Poko Puppets’ ingenuity and firm knowledge of stagecraft were evident throughout.  In the Peer Gynt sequence, Peer goes to sea, in search of adventure.  This was achieved with a large piece of light blue, billowing fabric.  Peer, a tiny puppet, in his little boat, is menaced by Aegar, the Sea King — a masked actor.  Also impressive was the clever use of umbrellas.  Black umbrellas formed the bodies of the troll-bats who guarded the cave entrance.  A white umbrella, decorated with garlands and ribbons, became a pretty turning maypole, in the Peer & Solveig wedding scene.

The cosily familiar music of Tchaikovsky, Kleinsinger, Grieg — and Irving Berlin — and the fresh-as-a-daisy look of Peter Rabbit Revue, were a perfect antidote to the inclement weather just outside the Westbury Music Fair that day!

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Jack Frost Holiday Show
Haft Auditorium, Fashion Institute of Technology, New York City, Dec. 6, 1999

Review by Peter Lewis.  For The Puppet Master, Journal of The Puppetry Guild of Greater New York.

Poko Puppets’ Jack Frost Holiday Show is a festive hour of fun. It’s a virtual “how-to” of a successful show: tight script, masterful design, bright colors, skillful direction, and a professionally-recorded, original score, performed by an able cast of masked, costumed actors.

The cavernous Haft Auditorium at FIT was filled with young schoolchildren eager for something special, and Larry Engler’s splendid production did not disappoint. From the recorded medley of familiar Christmas classic songs that welcomed us, to the lively finale, this was a captivating and fast-moving show.

The audience needed no prompting to clap along to the many songs, which included a Country-Western number entitled “Pig Sty Love,” in the Three Little Pigs sequence. (The lyric, “I’ll never be a swine to you. Don’t be a boar to me,” will live forever in my memory!)

Our host and guide, the silvery-costumed Jack Frost, introduced us to “Frosty the Snowman,” who was created right in front of us, came to life, to the children’s delighted squeals, and danced his way across the stage!

This was followed in quick succession by Little Red Rocket Hood. A modern retelling of the classic tale, we saw puppets in rocket ships hurtling through “space,” shooting stars, comets, and meteor showers. Black light theater has rarely been used more effectively than in this magical sequence.

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” was illustrated with flat cutouts that suggested brightly-wrapped gifts, which were animated by two nimble performers to the lyrics of the familiar song.

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” a soft puppet, was worked vent-style, with Jack Frost as the ventriloquist. The sing-along was joined by every child and adult in the sold-out, 930-seat theater.

“March of the Toy Soldiers,” to the well-known Victor Herbert song, brought six soldiers onstage, clad in bright red and white, smartly stepping-off, military-style, in seemingly endless variations, with Jack Frost as their commander-in-chief — a satisfying conclusion to this very engaging show.

In sum, this was a production to rival the “big” Christmas one at Radio City Music Hall. (Frankly, I enjoyed the Jack Frost Holiday Show more — much more.)

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Making Puppets Come Alive

Review by Nick Coppola, for Puppet Master, official journal of the Puppetry Guild of Greater New York

One of the few truly informative books on puppetry has returned from out-of-print limbo. First published in 1973, Making Puppets Come Alive, by long-time Guild members Larry Engler and Carol Fijan, is a remarkable volume which is chiefly concerned with the hand-puppet and its manipulation. This is not another "How-To-Make-A-Puppet" book, but focuses on what to do with the puppet after it is created.

David Attie’s superb photographs of the demonstration puppets (designed by Paul Vincent-Davis) illustrate the concise text vividly. Indeed, there is hardly a page without a terrific photograph in the book. Particularly impressive are the time-lapse shots that illustrate the puppet’s movement in action.

The text includes exercises and suggested improvisations as well as a chapter on the construction of simple puppets and stages, which would be extremely useful for educators. One chapter offers the unique idea of using faceless puppets in improvisations. These blank figures compel the puppeteer to express the puppet’s nature and feelings through movement rather than through external decorations.

Performers can benefit greatly from the movement techniques, especially from the chapter on mouth puppets, as this type of puppet is so much in evidence nowadays and, more often than not, poorly manipulated. As we are often called upon to instruct and conduct workshops, as well as perform, this book is invaluable. Larry and Carol have generously given you the entire lesson plan . . . . it is good to have it back in print.

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Making Puppets Come Alive: How to learn and Teach Hand Puppetry

Review by George Latshaw, for The Puppetry Journal, The official national publication of The Puppeteers of America

One of the joys of a reunion with old friends is the discovery that they are still as lively and wonderful as we remembered — that the passage of time has not diminished their vitality or marked them with any tell-tale signs of age. So it is with this “breakthrough” book by Larry Engler and Carol Fijan which first appeared in 1973. Now a whole new generation can discover the fresh and fizzy-fun way to learn all the things you ever needed to know to be a good, sensitive, expressive hand puppeteer.

The text is terse. It tells you step-by-step what to do, accompanied by large, clear photographs (worth a thousand words) depicting the action. The use of the plastic “see-through” puppet bodies was a brilliant solution to revealing the different fingering systems inside the puppet body. The use of a sort of time-lapse photography to show a starting position with the blur of motion to the next position makes the objective clear as a bell. Contrasting photographs show the difference between the right position for the puppet, and the “oops” things to avoid, traps that beginners fall into without knowing what to look for. Tilting the head back and losing the eyes; slanting the body forward, which makes an unstable bias base; lazy leaning the forearm against the playboard — a definite no-no. The authors give the reader every guide to being a good puppeteer. There are also chapters on Pantomime, Use of Props, and Puppet Voices, as well as suggested Improvisations for putting all the movements into action with feeling.

Dover Publications has done a splendid job of producing the book and is to be highly commended for making this valuable book available again. The art of puppetry flourishes when gifted artists are also gifted educators. Communicating clearly their methods for successful performance can inspire the novice and the not-so-novice puppeteer. In the beginning there is a good teacher. In the end, there is a disciplined student who followed in the footsteps.

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Making Puppets At Home

Review by Nick Coppola, for Puppet Master, Official journal of the Puppetry Guild of Greater New York

Larry Engler’s Poko Puppets and DMP Productions have created a video called Making Puppets At Home, which is aimed at children and parents. Using easily found household materials, Larry demonstrates clearly how to make puppets from paper tubes, bags, socks, etc. While using these items is not unusual, Larry’s suggestions for features and embellishments give these old friends a bright, new, colorful look.

The crisp camera work carefully shows the complete construction of the many puppets, unlike the so-called “magic of television,” where demonstrations spin wild-ly from “start to finish” in a dizzying blur. This video shows all the tools and materials that will be needed. Larry takes time to offer safety advice in choosing non-toxic glues and the handling of scissors Amusingly, after wielding the scissors with abandon, we spot, in close-up, a bandaged index finger. He knows whereof he speaks.

He is “assisted” in his tasks by one Wally the Walrus, a large fuzzy hand-and-mouth puppet in the talented hands and voice of Todd Stockman. Wally offers lively commentary, and even gets to work a puppet, and have an outer-space experience! Later, after all the fun of making the puppets, they dutifully clean up the work area, a part of the lesson parents will certainly welcome. Parents, teachers and camp coun-selors will want to have this video on hand for those days when the kids have ‘nothin’ to do.” The easily available materials and step-by-step explanations are a great asset. . . .

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