SALT LAKE CITY — When I first heard about Meat & Potato Theatre’s Aliens (the puppet musical) I knew this would be a show that I had to see. I mean a musical version of the sci-fi classic Aliens? With puppets? Either it would be a brilliant satire/homage or it would be a fascinating train wreck. Thankfully, my greatest hopes were realized in this amazing show.
I won’t go into the plot of Aliens. If you haven’t seen the movie (really?) you should immediately. It’s fantastic cinema, but that’s not why we’re here. And really, to describe very much of this is to give away too much of the joy of experiencing the twists and surprises first-hand. Upon entering the theater, we are warned that water pistols are used in this show. Audience members may get sprayed. What follows is two hours of the most geektastic mish-mash of sci-fi genres I’ve ever encountered. The brief “overture” is a mash-up of several sci-fi films’ themes followed by the lone figure of Ripley singing about space and home. The script and original songs by Tobin Atkinson, Marynell Hinton, and Rob Hartman stay true to the source material, but include so many nice twists and tweaks to make this an exceedingly fun evening.
Rebecca Marcotte is wonderful as Ripley, and the only “human” actor in the show. Acting with puppets is not as easy as it might first seem, and she maintains the integrity of the character and the drama throughout with all the craziness that is going on around her. The program doesn’t list which characters the puppeteers are performing, but they all do an excellent job. The puppeteers are Amber Hansen, Connor Padilla, Connor Rickman, Jeff Robinson, Josh Thoemke, Raina Thorne, and Ruth Ann Weisman. They each appeared onstage in black costumes and head coverings, and act out the puppet characters. I have to admit that after a few minutes I found that I didn’t notice the hooded actors and was actually paying attention to the puppets as the characterizations they gave them. Each puppet had a unique and distinct character that was maintained throughout. Hats off to this excellent cast.
Director Tobin Atkinson did a masterful job of leading the cast through this show. All of the scene changes and transitions were deftly executed and flowed smoothly from one to another. Lighting design by Ethan Olson was crucial in these transitions and created the feeling of varying rooms, corridors and spaces within the planetary complex. The varying song styles complemented the mood and various characters in appropriate ways. One song in particular, a lullaby sung between Ripley and the puppet Neo/Newt was touching and had an odd Mary Poppins feel to it. And the operatic style to the Alien Queen’s song was a perfect match for the Raina Thorne’s beautiful voice in that great dance number. Marynell Hinton’s choreography was especially well done in that number with a cast of dancing aliens.
All the puppets (constructed by Atkinson, Hinton, and some of the cast members) were thoroughly fantastic. And this also speaks to the different styles used, from traditional “Jim Henson” style puppets to large towering figures and even Asian-style shadow puppets. The jokes come fast and furious, and while not all of them hit the target, many did and with deadly accuracy. There were also some of the usual bobbled lines and a couple of missed cues, but this did not detract from the great fun of the show. There are references from Star Wars, Blade Runner, Escape from New York, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Battlestar Galactica, and a galaxy of other sci-fi movies, TV shows, and books. However, Aliens (the puppet musical) is not all funny gags and jokes. There are some genuine thrills and scares in all of this, true to the movie. Aliens (the puppet musical) ranks as one of the best shows I have seen, and certainly the most unique. It was a perfect evening for this geek dad and his geek son!