Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Premiere of Puff

This week marks the premiere of an original Fairyland puppet show, and I couldn’t be more excited.

The show is based on “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” a song written by Leonard Lipton and Peter Yarrow and made popular by Yarrow's group Peter, Paul and Mary in a 1963 recording. The lyrics tell a story of the ageless dragon and his playmate Jackie Paper, a little boy who grows up and loses interest in the imaginary adventures of childhood, leaving Puff alone and sad.

The song became a classic. It also played an important role in the early life of Fairyland’s master puppeteer, Randal Metz.

“My grandmother sang it to me all the time,” Randal recalls. “We sang it together, so it’s a special memory for me that I wanted to share with another generation.”

But because this is Fairyland, we wanted to make it our own.

It typically takes Randal about a year to gestate a show. Conducting research; choosing the right voices, music and types of puppets; fleshing out the story to include color-blind characters and a happy ending: all of it takes time and the talents of many people. It takes a little extra time for Randal to insert a few puns for the adults in the audience (something he can’t resist doing).

In our version, Puff is the invisible friend we’ve all had, the friend who’s there when we need him or her. Puff encourages his friend Jackie to make independent decisions, but Puff is always there to help.

Since there’s not much of a story in the song, our tale is told by a grown-up Jackie to his daughter, and it includes many wild adventures, “I’m going to tell you an imaginary tale—that really happened,” Jackie says at the beginning.

Our story includes a pirate who wants to be a chef, a falling star, giant Nose People and a magic rainbow. The characters come in all colors: blue (the pirate Blueberry Beard), brown, pink and silver.

And those of us who love the old song will get to hear it – in 16 versions, including jazz, acoustic guitar, classical, harp and even Caribbean and reggae. In addition, our talented friend Tony Jonick composed three original songs for the 24-minute show.

Three different types of puppets are used in the show to create Puff, including one we have never used before in our entire 60-year puppet-theater history. A small Puff is represented by a sophisticated rod puppet; at the very end of the show he’s represented by an arm puppet.

Then there’s the large moving mouth puppet, a style made famous by the Muppets. We’ve never used one before, and “it just blows kids away,” says Randal.

Randal uses local libraries as our Off Broadway, testing out the show in front of small groups and making changes based on audience reaction before it arrives at the Fairyland stage. I had the chance to see the show at one performance, and I count it as one of my very favorites over my 14-year history at the park. I particularly love that Jackie Paper is telling his tale to a daughter instead of a son, and that she ultimately takes off on her own astounding exploits.

I should warn you about the puns. Here’s one: When the leader of the Nose People (Nose-tradamus – ouch!) encounters our pirate, he compliments him on his gold earrings. When told that they cost one dollar each, he replies, “Not bad for a buck an ear.”

Adults, don’t be embarrassed to say you love the Puff song and want to see the puppet show. Grab a child to use as your cover, and come on by. Here at Fairyland, we’ve learned over 60 years that puppetry is as much for adults as for kids. And the puns are just for you.

-C.J. Hirschfield
C.J. Hirschfield has served for 13 years as executive director of Children’s Fairyland, where she is charged with the overall operation the nation’s first storybook theme park.


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