A show with the name Toyland evokes grand visions of a paradise in children. The Puppet Co. Playhouse's version of Toyland delivers on the promise of creating just such a magical world where toys are abundant and fun is had by all lucky enough to spend time there.
All of the marionettes in Toyland are masterfully controlled by Christopher Piper and Tony Strowd, who also sing and act out the puppets' roles. Piper also plays the role of the Toymaker, the only non-puppet character in the show. As the Toymaker, Piper artfully draws children into the story from the first moments of Toyland by addressing them directly and encouraging them to interact with him and the puppets.
Just as children believe they have found a new friend in the Toymaker, things begin to go awry. The Toymaker is kidnapped from his studio by the evil Mr. Barnaby who holds the Toymaker for a ransom of all the toys in Toyland. The Toymaker's loyal friends, Tom the Piper's son and Little Bo Peep set out to the Forbidden Forest to try to rescue the Toymaker so that they can hold the much-anticipated Parade of the Toys. With help from forest creatures, the Toymaker is saved and returns safely to Toyland. But, Mr. Barnaby also returns to Toyland to try one again to get all the toys for himself. This time, however, he has a change of heart after he has a fantastic time playing with a toy horse, a nearly life-sized bear, and other toys that the Toymaker has recently completed.
My children, ages five and two, thoroughly enjoyed the show. My five-year old son particularly liked Mr. Barnaby's sidekick, a silly cat who frequently gets in Mr. Barnaby's way. My two-year-old daughter was enchanted by the animals in the Forbidden Forest, especially the butterfly and the Moth Queen. All of the children in the audience at the show I attended enjoyed seeing toys come to life, and my son could not stop talking about the toys that talked and moved by themselves after the show. I liked the messages imparted during the performance, including that hard work pays off, anything worth doing is worth doing right, and that what's bad can be turned into something good.
Leaving the show, I found it hard to believe that such a high-quality production was accomplished by only two puppeteers, who doubled as actors. Neither Piper nor Strowd missed a beat during the entire show, and improvised well during a small technical glitch in the performance, declaring it "part of the adventure of live toy making." Don't miss the experience of seeing these talented performers in action.
If you go, The Puppet Co. Playhouse is located in Glen Echo, MD. Toyland plays on Friday, Saturdays and Sundays. It runs 40 minutes, making it manageable for families that include young children. Tickets are $10 for everyone two and up. There are discounts for group sales and a trip to the Puppet Co. makes a great outing for a playgroup.
For procrastinators, be aware that ticket sales online end one hour and 15 minutes before show time. Doors open fifteen minutes before the show begins. Seating is unassigned with seating for children on the floor and some benches available for adults in the back. There is limited space available for adults to sit with children on the floor so if you want to sit with your child you should plan on arriving early to be among the first admitted to the theatre. There is a live circuit TV in the lobby so you will not miss any of the show if you need to step out with your child for a moment. Piper, dressed as the Toymaker, comes out after the show to meet the children and pose for pictures.
Toyland runs through February 10th. There is an ASL-interpreted show on Sunday, February 3rd at 1:00 p.m. All children will enjoy a visit to Toyland!
Photos and tickets provided courtesy of the Puppet Co. Playhouse