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Oversized characters, especially those with noticeably oddball features, take center stage in presenting big-life messages in John Lewandowski’s theatrical work. But even the most serious lesson is spotlighted with plenty of laughs.
“We do a comic-to-the-absurd style,” Lewandowski said. “We want it be accessible not only to kids but to adults also.”
Lewandowski’s Madcap Puppet Theatre of Cincinnati will kick off the Columbus Area Arts Council’s 25th season of the free First Fridays for Families entertainment series with its Friday presentation of “Fantastic Fairy Tales” at The Commons, 300 Washington St. Included in the performance will be “Rapunzel,” “The Wishing Tree” and “The Water of Life.”
The trio are linked by an overall story. The audience will meet a king’s royal court jester, Flump, who accidentally overhears a plot by the wizard Glistor to turn the king into a mouse. As he entertains attendees with fairy tales and plenty of audience participation, Flump tries to discover a way to save the king.
“We especially enjoy the kind of audience where you have maybe the entire family with the parents and kids together,” said Lewandowski, Madcap’s executive and artistic director, speaking by phone from his Ohio office. “That’s ideal — getting them to enjoy something together. It’s a wonderful opportunity.”
The troupe travels nationwide for hundreds of productions annually, including shows with orchestras and opera companies. Its holiday presentation in Cincinnati of “Amahl and the Night Visitors” has become a classic draw.
Tales to tell
WHAT: “Fantastic Fairy Tales,” presented by the oversized Madcap Puppets Theatre of Cincinnati
WHY: Part of the Columbus Area Arts Council’s First Fridays for Families series
WHEN: 6 p.m. Friday
WHERE: The Commons, 300 Washington St., Columbus
AGES: Pre-kindergarten through third grade
SPONSOR: Old National Bank
So, too, has First Fridays in its own way.
The local shows attract an average of 375 people — children, parents, grandparents and others — and drew 500 for the hands-on Bongo Boy Drum Circle last fall, according to the Arts Council’s figures.
Part of the long-running success is simple, according to Arthur Smith, the council’s marketing and media director.
“Any day we can put on a free arts program for children is a good day for the Arts Council,” Smith said. “For some of these children, it’s the first and perhaps only arts experience they may have.”
While children might be the most expressive audience members, the children-at-heart represent First Fridays’ success, too, Smith said.
“Adults are as big a part of the atmosphere as the kids,” he said. “You can see the smiles on parents’ faces as they watch both the show and their children.”
The longtime event also means some who saw shows when they were just children now are bringing their kids.
“We have seen children grow up over the years,” Smith said. “We have also gotten to know many of the parents, some of whom come now as grandparents.”
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