Puppet Magic


   The Disney story may draw kids to The Lion King on Broadway, but the spectacle of the show lives on in memory — due in no small part to the costumes, masks and puppets and direction by Julie Taymor.  Now Taymor has brought her skills to The Magic Flute, in a holiday family opera at The Metropolitan Opera.  This English-language adaptation features flying birds, dancing bears, and the fantastic Queen of the Night.

   Taymor notes that she “doesn’t believe in doing shows for kids” and maintains that The Magic Flute, one of her favorite operas, is “the most popular opera in the world, and the easiest for kids to understand.”  The 90-minute show, best for ages 9 and up, is an adaptation of an earlier production Taymor also directed.  This Magic Flute is also performed in English.

   The director assures anyone looking to take children to the show that the “classic coming-of-age story” is easy to follow, and that “the libretto is simplistic.” The fast-paced show is also performed without an intermission.

   Surprisingly, Taymor, who is well known for her use of puppetry in theater, says she didn‘t like puppets as a child growing up in suburban Boston.   She first became involved with this art form in the late ‘60s, as part of Bread & Puppet Theater, where she realized “the power of the image without words”. But she has always been drawn to the theater; at age 7, she was producing plays in her backyard, and by age 9, she was studying with Boston Children's Theater.  At 15, she traveled to India and Sri Lanka on a school-related trip, a journey that spawned her lifelong love of Asian theater; at 16, she was studying in Paris with legendary mime, Jacques Le Coq.  By the time she got to Oberlin College, she was set to major in mythology and folklore.

   One of Taymor’s first commercial successes was at The New Victory Theater, the family theater on 42nd Street.  The show, The Green Bird, used large puppets that were a precursor to The Lion King puppets; ironically, The New Victory is across the street from the New Amsterdam Theatre, where The Lion King played for nine years (the show recently moved to the Minskoff to make room for Mary Poppins).

   Taymor believes kids can enjoy a show even when it’s not specifically made for them.  They may need to be older to appreciate the art of theater, but for younger audience members, it's simple: They look to be entertained.  To that end, she believes her productions work on many levels, appealing to both young and old.  They are certainly popular. Taymor admits that although “you hope you have a hit show,” she never imagined Lion King "on the scale that it became.”

Where: The Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center

The Magic Flute
will be performed December 29, 31 and January 1, 2 and 4 at 1pm, and December 30, 1:30pm. 

How much:
Ticket prices have been lowered for the production, and range from $15-$125.

For more info:

Nathan Gunn as Papageno in Julie Taymor’s ‘Magic Flute’

Photo: Ken Howard/The Metropolitan Opera