The foodie fable playing at The Center for Puppetry Arts tells the story of a little noodle knocked from the safety of the mixed pasta box that she calls home and into the big, cruel, wonderful world of the grocery store.
The clean-up on aisle four sweeps her away, where she meets a bully of a rat who calls her “fat,” a diet doctor who promises to maker her skinny, junk food addicts and shallow magazine cover kids. It’d be a hard world for her if she didn’t already know she was healthy and beautiful with her angel hair and rigatoni thighs.
“Adventures of Little Noodle” is a one-hour show written and directed by Jon Ludwig, the man with a “wicked twinkle,” who saw that noodle theater would need an original score, glowing puppets and voices performed live.
I thought it was adorable, and absolutely worth the time, if just to see how puppeteers turn out the lights and make objects into characters. I have been humming the lyrics, “You are our little noodle…” for four days now, but none of my officemates have lashed out at me yet. Still, this is a show cooked up for theatergoers not yet assembling their own meals, or even surviving the relentless judgment of middle school.
For a more helpful perspective, I borrowed some observant kiddos to get the inside view on how the tale tastes to its intended audience.
The Kindergartner: Frankie Deck, 5
Favorite Muppet: “Kermit and Miss Piggy. The chef! Yeah, the chef! Nah, not the big dog. And Ernie was my favorite, with his rubber ducky. And I like Big Bird.”
Review: In the moments after Little Noodle was swept away from her home on the grocery store shelf, Frankie grabbed her father’s arm and buried her head in his side. The audience was noticeably worried, and more than one little kid announced, “She’s crying!” This memory would linger. When asked about the show, Frankie’s first reaction was concern: “It was kind of scary, the part where she got separated from her family.”
She claimed to have learned nothing, but followed up immediately with lines of dialogue and song. She whispered “Banana! Broccoli! Noodle!” all the way home. Nothing, indeed.
Outside the show, she was giddy to stand within a few feet of the Swedish Chef and Ernie. Post-show puppet-making was a winner, too: “I liked how we get to make our own ones without them having to do it for us.”
Final assessment: “I would bring my friends.”
The Big Sister: Sophia Deck, 12
Favorite Muppet: “I like them all. I always thought Kermit was pretty cool.”
Review: Sophie was game for whatever kind of fun this could be, but she turned skeptical right around the time the puppeteers showed how to run in place without leaving the seats. She had a few laughs, but had she not been surrounded by a willing audience of pint-sized believers, the show would’ve seemed silly: “I think it would be best for younger kids. I liked it, it’s fun — to go with your little sister. A lot of people would enjoy it, that are around Frankie’s age. It’s a good thing for them to see, a good message.”
She gave a nod to the artists, though, for presenting the same old message in a very new way: “We talk about this in school, we’ve heard it a thousand times. They did it better than most people. I didn’t really think about how they were portraying what it was really about till the end.”
Final assessment: Good message, good family fun, but would she bring her friends to the show? “Uh, no.”
The Dad: Jason Deck
Favorite Muppet: “I had an emotional reaction to Rowlf the Dog because of the wear and tear on the puppet itself. I really felt a connection to the artists and creators.”
Review: It had been years since he’d been to the Center for Puppetry Arts, and based on the number of parents and kids he recognized, we’d clearly discovered the rainy day hangout for intown families. As for the show: “I thought it was a lot of fun, the kids were into it. It was a smarter script than I expected. It the kind of thing only internalized with repeated exposure — it has to be part of something greater. If it’s supported by families, supported by our schools, kids will start to internalize it.”
Final assessment: “I’m looking forward to some of the adult programming.”
The Critic: Wendell Brock
Favorite Muppet: “Miss Piggy. She’s fabulous. I heart her. I am her.”
Review: We didn’t see the show with theater critic Wendell Brock, but his review published in August offered the insight of someone who has seen a lot of new ideas and even stranger puppets cross the stage: “Combining nifty video technology with a delightful score and lyrics, the kid-friendly puppet musical espouses a message of smart choices, healthy lifestyles and positive attitudes. And by deploying plush, Day-Glo-colored puppets that look more like cartoon characters than preachy adults, it serves up a full-size meal of diet and exercise info in easy-to-swallow nuggets.
“‘Adventures of Little Noodle’ takes on a sensitive, shame-based social topic and turns it into a tale that is as disarmingly satisfying as it is tastily entertaining. You won’t leave with an empty soul. But you may think twice before pigging out on fries and pies.”
Final assessment: B+
See it: Families with kids around sixth grade or younger; puppetry and musical lovers; anyone in need of a celeb-culture detox.
Skip it: Families with kids unable to engage for an hour, whether teen or infant; those unwilling to suspend disbelief; carb haters.
Want to go? “Adventures of Little Noodle,” $9-16, including Create-A-Puppet Workshop and Museum entrance. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Sept. 13. Center for Puppetry Arts, 1404 Spring St. N.W., Atlanta. 404-873-3391, www.puppet.org.