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‘Stuffed and Unstrung’ proves puppetry can be risque business



When: Through June 17

Where: Bank of America Theatre, 18 E. Monroe

Tickets: $25-$60

Info: (800) 775-2000 or visit www.Broadway

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Updated: July 14, 2012 6:30AM

You can only wonder what Kermit and Oscar, Bert and Ernie, and even the fabulous Miss Piggy might think about “Stuffed and Unstrung,” the happily blue “adult” puppet show now onstage at the Bank of America Theatre. They might very well opine: “We lived in a more innocent time. We really had no IDEA puppets could have so much sex or such soft-core porn fantasy lives.”

Of course we’ve known for years that all those Punch and Judy shows were about dysfunctional, sado-masochistic relationships. And Broadway’s “Avenue Q” made it clear that puppets were capable of copulation. But the Miskreant Puppets and puppeteers who appear in this Henson Alternative production — a tour-de force mix of live action, audience-prompted improvisation, digital mashup and full frontal exposure (we’re talking technique, not anatomy here) — takes things quite a bit further.

The brainchild of Brian Henson, son of Muppet-master Jim Henson, and actor Patrick Bristow (who played Peter on ABC’s “Ellen”), “Stuffed and Unstrung” might ruffle the tail feathers of Big Bird’s most devoted fans, but more likely it will speak to the several generations of rug rats who grew up on “Sesame Street,” but now have more salacious preoccupations. And frankly, didn’t you always get the feeling that puppets had a touch of perversity in them?

So, here’s how the 90-minute show works: The stage is set up with two large video screens and a central performing area where six puppeteers manipulate, voice and continually improvise various songs and scenarios as they guage the “large-screen” effect of their work on floor-level monitors. Bristow, serving as host (and director), interacts with the audience, signaling the need for audience participation with the call to “Puppet-Up,” and fielding their responses (obviously the more suggestive the better), much as happens at The Second City. The performers then head to a wall to choose from scores of puppets (animals, androids, hotdogs and more).

At Tuesday’s opening performance the subjects ranged from lesbians, to a proctology exam, to artificial insemination, to speed-dating, to tiny tots’ beauty pageants, to the search for a rabbi. Amidst all this was the wonderful reinvention of two classic early pieces by Jim Henson and Frank Oz. The “puppeteers” — including the charismatic Henson, the easily uncensored Colleen Smith (great with punchlines), Victor Yerrid, Ted Michaels, Drew Massey and Peggy Etra — make the mix of technical prowess and rapidfire wit seem easy. It is not. Nor is it easy for the puppets. After all, as this show reminds us, they’ve all got a hand up their [rear ends].

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