A sold out Seattle crowd perspires in a subterranean brick grotto waiting for Puppeteers for Fears, Ashland Oregon’s very own punk rock horror puppet troupe to take the stage.
Ashland is a town known nationwide for its theatre community, but is truly identified with its Shakespearean festivals in the summer that draw aristocrats and the bourgeois legions from around the country each year.
In an act of defiance to the established theatrical order, spurred on by a random bar encounter and seemingly a head steeped in the cultural milieu of the horror genre, accidental playwright and career musician Josh Gross co-founded the troupe in 2015. Gross likens their performance to that of a touring rock band, complete with expletive spewing puppets and horror/sci-fi themes.
After a 6 week sold out run in Ashland in 2016, they once again sold out a three-day run for the oldest of the old ones in their neighboring city of Portland, OR and now the gang has taken the show to Seattle to spread their Lovecraftian puppet gospel.
Gross understands the cultural significance of the Cthulhu mythos is a unique one in that so many are familiar with the brand of Cthulhu, but not fluent with the actual story written by Howard Phillips Lovecraft in Providence, RI so many moons ago. This emboldens their adaptation to hav a unique spin, entirely their own, without reproach from any but the most severe a Lovecraft fanatics, of which this writer can be counted.
The performance features wildly comedic, exaggerated characters based on the source material. The show is chock full of pop culture references ranging from films like Jaws, to topical jokes concerning Oliver Sacks and the treatment of mental illness. No safe harbor is afforded when the funny is applied, with one of Cthulhu’s shoggoths subtly dropping the hint to a manic character that they should commit suicide by committing a “suicide bombing or driving into the crowded farmer’s market.”
The musical arrangements are complex, and the lyrics well thought out, bringing the absurdity of Lovecraft’s landscape to a modern place through the heavy application of parody. A wild discourse of sea shanties, ballads and heavy metal madness bring the groups talents to showcase. The songs are memorable and leave you smiling at every turn.
Through the romp over the sea and towards the “Mountains of Madness”, you will laugh and have a great time pausing to contemplate the well placed Easter Eggs Gross has lain.
Like any good Lovecraft story, a slow burn to a maddening race towards the end of humanity creates an atmosphere of foreboding though in the least likely way possible.
The group intends to extend their reach to as many cities as possible and their DIY spirit is strong, with the charismatic and ambitiously creative multimedia wizard Gross encouraging others in communities far and wide to contact him about producing Puppeteers for Fears written shows of their own. Open source horror puppetry, what a wonderful world.
After the run in Seattle, Cthulhu the Musical will “Go back to rest in the sea.” Gross says, with their newest musical romp “Robo-pocalypse” set to be unleashed on audiences this fall. I personally can’t wait to see what these talented folks produce next and give my stamp of approval to their bizarre, wonderful show.