You know you’re in a world-class city when there are two shows running simultaneously in which puppets deliver lessons in Schadenfreude. But unlike the primary-colored Avenue Q, this grimmer-than-Grimm play with music has a sepia hue, from the marionettes to the upright bass to the names (Augustus, even).
While you might stay clear if your worst nightmare is spending an hour forty with a castrato clown in a bowler hat playing the accordion, tween fans of Lemony Snicket—not to mention Edward Gorey, Roald Dahl, or the bloodier fairy tales—will feel at home, and adult fans of Tom Waits or Tim Burton should, too. The show’s inspiration, Heinrich Hoffmann’s 1844 children’s storybook Struwwelpeter, is widely believed to have inspired Edward Scissorhands, although Burton insists it didn’t. The Cryptkeeper of an emcee (Julian Bleach) introduces a dozen or so children, from “Flying Robert” to “Fidgety Phil,” whose gruesome ends are dramatized; a Weill-ish trio called the Tiger Lillies (cult heroes in London) acts as Greek chorus.
Frequently miraculous stagecraft—the red curtained stage-within-a-stage is showered with feathers, leaves, snow, and tears; a young pyromaniac catches fire by turning her flame-lined dress inside out—conspires to create a wonderfully horrible world where rabbits are serial killers, thumb-sucking is punishable by death, and amiable morbidity is all the rage.