Olivia Ruggiero is sick of Tinder, sick of terrible dates and dead end relationships. And she’s going to tell you about it through the tried and tested medium of musical theatre review and parodying Jim Henson.
It’s a tale as old as time with a suitably fairytale opening, Ruggiero casting herself as the princess on a quest for connection. There’s heartbreak and loneliness in her story, but little of who she is outside of her dating life.
For a show titled Puppets, there is surprisingly little puppetry here as Ruggiero wields her Sesame Street pals as stand-ins for the last decade of bad dates. She revisits her relationships with gaslighting Grover and Fuck-boi Bert, yet there is a lack of connection and practical mastery between her and the characters which results in them struggling to come to life. The best is an elongated skit with evangelical Elmo, who stares down the keyboard player with wonderful mania in his cold ping pong eyes. Yet even here Ruggiero limits her hand puppets, only physicalising the mouth and maybe a wave of the hand. With full body puppets like Elmo floating mid air, the effect unfortunately being one of them having been garrotted for their romantic crimes.
Ruggiero has an excellent musical theatre voice, and the breadth of the song book on display here shows she knows her stuff. The choices are narratively clear but the theme seems to wander, Bruno Mars peppering Sondheim and Jason Robert Brown. It’s reflective of the overall feel of Puppets, of adding extras on rather than refining the core. Or to put it in musical theatre terms, you don’t always need a gimmick, if you want to get ahead.