I was really looking forward to The Red Hot Chili Puppets’ show on the Summerfest Children’s Theater & Playzone Thursday at 12:45 p.m. Clearly under-researched, I was expecting a cloth-sock version of Flea backing up a googly-eyed Anthony.
Instead, the show featured a ventriloquist, Wayne, and his life-sized "dummy," Wingnut. You can imagine my initial disappointment.
But once I stopped bummin’ that I was not about to witness a cover of "Yertle The Turtle" or even "Under the Bridge" by a chorus of soft-mouthed Muppet wannabes, I decided to give ol’ Wayne a chance to "laugh my head off until it pops off." (Which is what he guaranteed would happen to the audience at the beginning of his show, while he played a washboard).
Wayne Francis, who is from Denver, is celebrating his 15th year at Summerfest with more than a dozen shows throughout the 11-day festival. He travels with 10 large puppets, all of which he built and gives voice to, and says he never performs the same show twice. This I found impressive and suggested to me that Wayne actually likes what he does.
And after seeing his show, I was certain that Wayne really is a guy who loves his job. He is energetic, smiley and very engaging. I could have lived without his insistence that the entire audience recite the "Star-Spangled Banner" as well as his Chihuahua puppet named Chico who speaks Spanglish.
But he made my kids laugh. A lot. And he even made me laugh when he asked, "OK, who here likes free stuff?" and when everyone raised their hands he said, "Great. After the show I am giving away a baby boy." Also, at one point he performed with a big, creepy "talking" pillow that hit on a mom in the front row. "Wanna shake my corner?" the pillow asked the lady. I wanted more of that, but alas, it was not that kind of family show.
Wayne is, quite possibly, the best ventriloquist I have ever seen. Not that I have seen many, but wow. I know ventriloquism is the art of "belly talking" but I do not understand…Read more...