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The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Milwaukee horror puppet show invades the Oriental

A puppet branshies a knife in “Night of the Living Dead: The Puppet Show.” Photo via Angry Young Men Ltd.

“Night of the Living Dead: The Puppet Show” is a parody of George Romero’s classic 1968 zombie film, “Night of the Living Dead” with, you guessed it, zombie puppets. In a handcrafted and utterly original Milwaukee production, the show updates the horror classic with a felt face.

The show will be performed at the Oriental Theatre tonight at 7:30 after countless hours of preparation from puppeteers, backstage crew and the masterminds behind the production, Angry Young Men Ltd..

The show has become a returning Milwaukee Halloween favorite filling seats year after year. The group’s co-artistic director, show mascot and colorful spokesperson known simply as Lumpy the Golem Boy talked with the Tribune over email about the show.

“We’re all big fans of live theater in this group,” Lumpy said, “but there is an appalling lack of both zombies and puppets in modern theater. Think of how much better your favorite plays would be if you added puppets. “Uncle Vanya” starring The Swedish Chef. Lambchop in “The Vagina Monologues.””

Lumpy has been with the group since 2010, three years after founder Billy Ray OIsen started Angry Young Men with Josh Perkins, Liz Ahlstrom and Joe Janswug, who met at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts.

“(The founders) got an offer from the “It Came From Lake Michigan” horror convention to do whatever they wanted with puppets, and thought ‘Why not?’” Lumpy explained.

“They got a lot of their mad scientist friends and drinking buddies involved pretty quick. … I believe they were drunk at the time.”

That offer sparked the idea for the puppets to meet “Night of the Living Dead,” an unlikely but surprisingly entertaining combination.

“Zombies and puppets! Two great tastes that taste great together!” Lumpy said. “Night of the Living Dead is a bona fide classic. It’s the original cannibal zombie film! It’s also public domain, so we can’t get sued.”

Once the idea was set and approved by the other group members, who, Lumpy explained, “smiled the smiles of the mischief-prone”, they began preparation for Milwaukee’s first zombie puppet show.

“Boy howdy, it was a lot of work!” Lumpy said. “They created everything by scratch – the sets, the props, and the cast. Then they remade everything better. Then they remade it again, mostly in each other’s living rooms and basement workshops. But it all begins with the script. Since there was a script already for the movie, we just cribbed that and added jokes.”

The creators also had to make the show’s stars, felt creatures that resemble goofy, slightly gruesome Muppets.

“Every puppet in our shows is a handmade, custom-built masterpiece; each one lovingly and painstakingly crafted by the finest puppet artisans,” Lumpy said. “Or at least by the folks in the group who can sew and fabricate.”

The show premiered six years ago, bringing the zombie classic to life and has returned every year. While the show’s organizers take the show to regional horror conventions and theater festivals, they plan to always return to The Oriental for special Halloween performance.

“The folks just love us!” Lumpy said. “We’ve performed at horror conventions and theater festivals to packed houses and rave reviews. Both fanboys and artsy-fartsy types can agree, this is one heckuva show.”

The draw seems to be long-lasting, with Milwaukee devotees returning year after year to catch the show.

“It’s scary! It’s funny! It’s even a little sexy, if you’re into that sort of thing,” Lumpy said giving his production one final pitch. “There’s zombies! And other monsters! And wacky jokes! There’s some strange and nifty opening acts! You’ll still get out in time to go clubbing! The Oriental Theatre has a liquor license! You can brag to all of your friends about the crazy puppet show that you went to see on Halloween and they’ll all be so jealous of you that you’re so cool and caught the best show in Milwaukee on Halloween! Better yet, bring them along.”

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