REVIEW: Sleeping Beauty at the New Victory

The king and queen attend the sleeping beauty

The king and queen attend the sleeping beauty

I had the great fortune to see the Carla Colla & Sons production of Sleeping Beauty at the New Victory on Sunday.  Colla & Sons has been an Italian marionette company for over 200 years, performing all sorts of productions around the world and in their native Italy.  Sleeping Beauty  (La Bella addormentata nel bosco) was beautifully performed, and gave a great sample of what a production like this may have been like in the early 1880’s.  (although this production did not have a live orchestra– the music was from Tchaikovsky’s Ballet of Sleeping Beauty and was perfectly suited.   The puppetry and the carvings were beautiful.  The animation of the puppets  was virtuosic. This was well worth seeing if you are a puppetry buff, and you want your kids exposed to some culture they wouldn’t find elsewhere.  Weirdly, everyone who was sitting around me was Russian.  And my 5 year old son loved it.

One of my favorite parts of the show was the very long curtain call.  In Czech and (apparently) Italian puppet shows, the curtain call is a way to put in all of the trick puppets and cool technical effects that you might not have been able to fit in otherwise.  This was awesome and a lot of fun to see.  As well, some of the set pieces were just astounding.  The castle turns into a forest in a really amazing way.  Really sumptuous work.

The fairies bring their gifts to the birth of Aurora, the Sleeping Beauty

The fairies bring their gifts to the birth of Aurora, the Sleeping Beauty

At the end of the production we saw there was a talkbalk, and there wasn’t enough time in the day to answer all of the questions. One of the most interesting things that the puppeteer representative said was that it takes them over a year to build and rehearse the production, and then 3 weeks to rehearse it to get it ready to perform when they go on tour.  And that in this production there were 152 puppets!

I had only one quibble with the show, and that was the translation.  The puppeteers are all Italian, and so they had their text translated and performed by a group of English actors.  The language was stilted and a little weird– stuff that is probably absolutely and precisely the right word in Italian, but has an archaic usage in American English.

Here’s a sample from the script (copyright Carlo Colla & Sons):


(speaking to the ladies-in-waiting who are bringing in flowers) Decorate the room to make it sparkle, to the utmost magnificence… Our illustrious guests will be here in a matter of minutes and nothing must be lacking!…


Don’t worry, Master Chamberlain!… These delicacies, only worthy of the ancient Gods in Olympus, will delight the palate of our Sovereign, of his Royal wife and of the noble visitors who will be sitting at this table today.

I think the translation could have been a lot more .. not modern, but clear.   The flowery and archaic language didn’t quite work for me. And while I thought the English voice actors were fine, they were not on par with the amazing puppetry, and were not as vivid and lifelike as the puppets (or the original Italian, as seen in the video below)

I completely understand why they didn’t perform it in Italian (it’s for kids, it’s 1.5 hours, and it is hard to watch a show in another language)  I really wish they had.  The layer of translation was distracting to me.  Or, if they had somehow gotten voice actors that could match the incredible vitality of the puppets.  But as I said, my son loved it, I loved it, and we were not alone.

They’ll be performing this at the New Victory through next weekend (BUY TICKETS HERE), and then moving on to Boston at the Paramount Center for the Arts  November 13-17.  Definitely don’t miss it!

Here’s a great feature on the marionnettes in the NY Times: 

And here’s the video (with acting in the original Italian) from the Carla Colla and sons website

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