Fun and chuckles fill Puppet Co.’s ‘Witch Wartsmith’s Halloween Spooktacular’

The third-annual entertainment is creatively and technically excellent.

Witch Wartsmith’s Halloween Spooktacular, one of the annual holiday shows by the Puppet Co. in Glen Echo Park, is a fun-filled performance for the fall’s spookiest holiday. The show — filled with puppets such as a blue-haired Witch Wartsmith, “Dancing Phalanges,” talking statues, and so much more — works well for kids and parents alike in its third annual performance.

The Jackie O’s puppeteered by Mollies Greenberg, Jackie Madejski, and Andrew Quilpa in ‘Witch Wartsmith’s Halloween Spooktacular.’ Photo by Elizabeth Dapo.

This is a variety show, where different characters perform to try to earn the applause of the audience so that they are declared the winner (a different one is declared at each performance). The puppeteers — a talented bunch, including Mollie Greenberg as Witch Wartsmith (your host for the production), Jackie Madejski as Benji, Danny Pushkin as Ghoulie, and Andrew Quilpa as Boris — take on their core roles, and others, in 45 minutes of entertainment that is creatively and technically excellent. Projections play a key role in this show, as testimonials from each contestant are displayed on the screen prior to their performances throughout the production.

Witch Wartsmith has an amusing script by Kirk Bixby and Elizabeth Dapo, and music by Bixby and John McLeod, which keeps not only kids but also adults smiling. There is a lot of physical comedy, puns, and some “advertisements” sure to give you a chuckle. The chuckles, in addition to those ads, include smaller jokes that have been mixed in, like hand-held puppets Boris and Vince; references to horror icons Boris Karloff (Hollywood’s “Frankenstein”) and Vincent Price (star of The House on the Haunted Hill) whose sculpted performances are a testament to Ingrid Crepeau’s design of them.

This production, with pumpkins and neon-green lights surrounding the stage and social distancing stickers on the floor, is comfortable and safe Halloween entertainment. The stage design, also from Dapo, looks appropriately spooky as well; the audience is pulled into an old mansion that sets the mood behind the puppeteers, with candles in the center, well-designed stained glass windows on either side, and tombstones that abound.

Benji the Bat puppeteered by Jackie Madejski in ‘Witch Wartsmith’s Halloween Spooktacular.’ Photo by Elizabeth Dapo.

Beyond the design, however, what also matters is that Bixby and Dapo (who also co-directed this show) pump a lot of smoke onto the stage to help with transitions. And that there is a bubble-filled ending, and kids can take pictures afterward with their favorite characters. It is those kinds of kid-focused smaller choices, amidst a 45-minute production, that matter and become conversation points for the car ride home with little ones.

This is a worthwhile kids’ theater because of the fun, and underlying it all, because of some talented puppeteers. When “The Flying Draculescu” swings upside down, midway through the show, it is one of many “wow” moments from the puppets created by Dapo and Dre Moore. In addition to Phalanges, Greyson the Mastiff is a particularly impressive full-body marionette. And when a set of pumpkin puppets prance around the stage to a take on the Spice Girls, you cannot help but smile. Witch Wartsmith also mixes in projections and video performances, designed by Bixby, which add to this well-honed production.

All told, here is hoping that this show continues as an annual holiday tradition. Witch Wartsmith is a fun, light-hearted, and affordable show in the comfortable confines of the Puppet Co’s Glen Echo home.

Running time: Approximately 45 minutes with no intermission.

Witch Wartsmith’s Halloween Spooktacular plays through October 29, 2023, at the Puppet Co. in Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd, Glen Echo, MD.  Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 10:30 a.m.; Saturdays and Sundays at 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. For more information and tickets ($15), click here.

The program for Witch Wartsmith’s Halloween Spooktacular is online here.

Information about ASL, sensory-friendly, and mask-required performances to be announced.

Witch Wartsmith’s Halloween Spooktacular

Original Script by Kirk Bixby & Elizabeth Dapo
Original Music by Kirk Bixby & John McLeod
Lyrics by Kirk Bixby
Choreographed by Kirk Bixby
Directed by Kirk Bixby & Elizabeth Dapo

Mollie Greenberg as Witch Wartsmith and others
Jackie Madejski as Benji and others
Danny Pushkin as Ghoulie B. and others
Andrew Quilpa as Boris and others
Understudies: Elizabeth Dapo, Momo Nakamura
Featured Vocals: Kira Rangel


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