Bringing The “Golden Girls” Puppet Parody To Life

"Using puppets gives us more leeway to just be totally crazy and go further."

Dorothy, Blanche, Sophia and Rose are coming back to life—in puppet form—with the new off-Broadway show That Golden Girls Show! A Puppet Parody, at the DR2 Theater through December 11.

The show is the brainchild of Australian performer Jonathan Rockefeller, who has quite an impressive pedigree: At just 18, Rockefeller got a job as assistant to Moulin Rouge director Baz Luhrmann by camping outside Luhrmann’s home.

Alexie Hay golden girls
Alexie Hay

Since then, he’s worked on screenplays, documentaries and animation—he even directed a Down Under production of Naked Boys Singing!—but he struck creative gold with Thank You For Being a Friend, his first Golden Girls puppet tribute that ran for almost five years.

“I was inspired by the Muppets and Sesame Street growing up, but my background is film and theater,” Rockefeller tells NewNowNext. “Honestly, puppetry wasn’t supposed to go anywhere for me, but it kind of turned into something bigger.”

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Bigger indeed: He’s also helped create The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show, an adaptation of the acclaimed children’s book that also utilizes puppetry. It debuted in Sydney in 2015 and came to off-Broadway this January, snagging a Drama Desk nomination.

Caterpillars are one thing, but why pay homage to our favorite foursome from Miami with puppets?

“Any impersonation we did was never going to be exactly like the original Golden Girls—It can’t be,” he explains.

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“But if you have an actor playing Rue McClanahan playing Blanche Devereaux, it’s just that much harder to get lost in the magic. Using puppets gives us more leeway to just be totally crazy and go further with the parody.”

That Golden Girls Show! is a brand-new “episode,” but one that features themes and moments familiar to fans—from Rose’s St. Olaf stories and Sophia’s get-rich-quick schemes to Blanche’s unquenchable hunger for men.

“There are classic bits and storyline elements being presented in a new context,” says Rockefeller, who first watched the show as a kid and rediscovered it as a teen.

“It works for people who are new to Golden Girls. It just gives you more layers if you’re a fan.”

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Audiences in the know can scan the stage for familiar props—like a sign for the St. Olaf Butter Queen contest, or Fernando, the beloved teddy bear that Rose tried to get back from Daisy, the Sunshine Cadet.

Does a certain nebbishy ex-husband make an appearance?

“We do see Stan,” reveals Rockefeller, who says Dorothy’s former husband “comes with a proposition.”

Compressing such vivacious characters into a few feet of felt and fabric can’t be easy, but Rockefeller says there’s more to capturing the girls than just the look. There’s the mannerisms, the dialogue—and something else.

that golden girls show

“Blanche has her strut. With Dorothy, it’s all in the eyes—her death stares to the other characters.”

What is it that’s made Golden Girls so beloved for more than 30 years?

“They’re women and they’re older, but they’re having sex and having fun,” offers Rockefeller.

“It was a time when youth was worshipped in a way it hadn’t been before. If anything, it’s more relevant now than ever.”

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We couldn’t let him go without asking him which Golden Girl he identified with the most.

“I wish I could say Blanche—I mean, don’t we all? But really I’m a Dorothy.”

 

 

That Golden Girls Show! A Puppet Parody is at the DR2 Theater through December 11. And catch The Golden Girls weekdays on Logo.

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.
@ItsDanAvery