Great Arizona Puppet Theater Gets Those Cabritas Across the River in The Three Billy Goats Gruff; plus, Adult Puppet Slams This Weekend

Just like the rest of us, sometimes a family of goats has to hit the road and do a little traveling in search of greener pastures, even if there's a scary, mean, dangerous troll waiting along the way.

The basic plot of The Three Billy Goats Gruff is a rather short story, even for preschoolers, so Great Arizona Puppet Theater has padded it out with some one-on-one chats between company chief/narrator/musician Nancy Smith and each of the puppets. It gives the show a nice meta feeling, helps the little kids feel as though they know some secrets, and makes the idea that a hungry troll is going to be right there not quite so scary. Each conversation is also a learning opportunity about something important like finding fun activities to share with friends of different, um, species, or fighting looksism when it comes to trolls. For me, it makes things drag a bit, but I'm hardly the target audience.

I also had a problem I've had at GAPT before -- sometimes I can't hear the puppeteer's voice. But there's lots of action, and everything gets repeated (I hear little kids like that in their entertainment), and it certainly didn't seem to bother the children in the audience. When they get excited, I get excited.

I especially like to watch older, cool kids get sucked into the excitement of puppetry. One group of middle-size girls was all full of gasps for the upcoming tour of Canyon Condor to the Grand Canyon (contact the theater for dates, venue, and details), among other things, and a gangly boy in front of me seemed a little bored and embarrassed to be at a show with toddlers, but by the time it was over, he was completely absorbed.

Smith is a friendly, goofy yet authoritative host, and she runs from stage to marimbas to keyboard like a teenager on doughnuts. You can see how cute the goats are. Each has his own personality and a little theme song, and there's also that troll. Eeeeew. Plus plenty of officially sanctioned audience participation.

You should also know that tonight and tomorrow, Friday and Saturday, June 4 and 5, GAPT presents its periodic evening Puppet Slam for people 18 and older who are not easily offended. (Imagine that Venn diagram.) These shows are always diverse, fun, and full of surprises, though I can't preview or review a performance that's probably still being tweaked as you read this. But you just can't say you've mastered Phoenix's nightlife scene until you've been to a Puppet Slam.

Matinees of The Three Billy Goats Gruff continue through Sunday, June 6, at Great Arizona Puppet Theater, 302 West Latham Street. Tickets are $6 and $8. Call 602-262-2050 to make a reservation. The Puppet Slam performances are at 8 p.m., and admission is $8 in advance and $10 at the door.

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