I am one of the biggest Golden Girls fans out there. I've seen every episode at least a dozen times, can recite lines left and right, and even incorporated my own little tribute to "The Girls" in my stand-up comedy routine that I used to do. And getting to interview original Golden Girl Rue McClanahan in 2009, was beyond a dream come true (Thank You Michael J. La Rue). Needless to say, when I heard that a Golden Girls parody was coming Off-Broadway, starring puppets no less, it was a no brainer that I HAD to talk to the show's creator! As luck would have it, I was granted an interview with Jonathan Rockefeller, creator of That Golden Girls Show! - Puppet Parody which will be playing DR2 Theatre this fall.
Set in that sassy Miami house in 1985, That Golden Girls Show! is a brand new show that parodies classic Golden Girls moments - with puppets! Get set for an evening of cheesecake, laughter, jazzercise, shoulder pads, sex, and the elegant art of the quick-witted put down. That Golden Girls Show! will play DR2 Theatre (103 East 15th Street) in NYC's Union Square from September 19-December 11. Click here for tickets!
1. This fall, your new show, That Golden Girls Show! - Puppet Parody will be making it's NYC debut! This show pays homage/makes fun of classic Golden Girls moments with puppets. What was the moment you were watching The Golden Girls and went "This would make a great parody show and you know what would make it even more funny, is having the characters as puppets"? I originally wanted to do a web series with puppets which was set in a retirement home with a few scripts I had been playing around with for a while. I have always been a fan of The Golden Girls, and eventually I ended up ditching the web series and focusing on a stand-up routine with the Golden Girls characters delivering a lot of the punchlines. In its short run it was a hit! So then it became an interesting challenge to construct a full scale show that played with the conventions, recurring lines, recurring themes and storylines (and there are many) within The Golden Girls itself, while being reverent to the original material. The original writing was so incredibly clever and witty and the performances were faultless, so the bar is set high to play with characters that everyone knows and loves…and try to make it more funny than it already is.
2. It's been almost 10 years since I've taken John Tartaglia's puppetry class and in that class I learned a lot about puppets/puppetry. Do you feel the characters will be able to get away with more being puppets as opposed to if this show was just actors? Oh absolutely. The great thing about using puppets in this show is they can have costume changes in seconds – how could you not include at least four costume changes for "Blanche Deveraux" for example. "Dorothy’s" sarcastic "death stare" is even more vicously hilarious coming from the eyes of a puppet and we’re able to stretch the physicality of the puppets more than you could with just an actor. In short, everyone is much more forgiving of a puppet than they are of a person.
3. There are so many classic moments from The Golden Girls. A few episodes I consider classics are The Murder Mystery Weekend, when Blanche's brother visits/gets married, Henny Penny, Dorothy's lesbian friend falls for Rose, when Blanche goes back to visit Grammy's Plantation, Blanche's niece comes for a visit, and Rose dreams the girls get their heads frozen, plus so many more! How did you narrow down the classic moments to just 90 minutes? A real challenge indeed! Don’t forget other infamous sequences like their stint in jail before meeting Burt Renyolds or "Dorothy’s" birthday at Mr Ha-Ha’s. It’s so endearing that fans of the series can recite their favorite episodes – but a challenge I had to face as well. Rather than opting for a singular episode I approached the script as more of a Golden Girls mix-tape. There are a lot of familiar scenarios which continue to recur in the series, and in this context they have been re-appropriated into a singular overarching story with a story thread for each character. However – don’t be surprised if nun costumes, Henny Penny and mother-daughter talent shows don’t pop up in some online videos soon.
4. What will die hard fans of the The Golden Girls love about That Golden Girls Show!? An earlier Golden Girls tribute show I worked on is now playing in Canada and the consistent feedback was that the real essence and integrity of the show was maintained – while it was being parodied. Die-hard fans are going to love a lot of the innuendoes and references to episodes they know and love, while the less familiar will be introduced to four incredible characters that have enchanted audiences for more than 30 years.
5. For someone who has never seen or heard about The Golden Girls (is that even possible??), why should they come see this show? Not having any previous knowledge, how do you think this show will still appeal to them? This is a show that appeals to everyone with a sense of humor. What was clever about the original show was its voice and how it tackled topical and interesting subjects – with a healthy dose of laughter and cheesecake. I think it would be impossible to watch this show and not go home and watch re-runs.
6. If you had to choose five episodes of The Golden Girls to watch on a repetitive loop, which episodes would you choose? To choose from so many! I always enjoyed when "Rose" and "Blanche" hit the boards – whether practicing tap dancing in the house "The Operation" or when all of them don those great costumes in "Henny Penny – Straight No Chaser."
The sequence I think I love the most is in "A Piece of Cake" when "Dorothy" celebrates her birthday at Mr Ha-Ha’s – and she loathes every minute of it up until a kid grants her birthday wish with a pie in Mr Ha-Ha’s face. I adore the "Dorothy" and "Blanche's" rivalry that arises in "Journey to the Centre of Attention" when they both vie for attention at the Rusty Anchor.
"Old Friends" is a beautifully written episode that demonstrates just how much heart the television series had. "Sophia" befriends someone at the pier who has Alzheimer’s. I think it tackles such heavy issues in such a caring and delicate manner.
7. In 2009, I had the honor of getting to interview Rue McClanahan. If you could have interviewed Rue, what would you have wanted to ask her? I’d have loved to talk to Rue about all the many roles she had in her life. I’d be interested about how much of herself went into each role, and how much did she create herself as a performer. Rue of course kept all her Golden Girls wardrobe – and I’d love to find out if she possibly found an occasion to wear so many shoulder pads!
8. There was an ad that came through my Facebook feed to order a mug with the following: "Live like Rose, Dress like Blanche, Think like Dorothy, and Speak like Sophia." If you had to live by these sayings, how would you "Live like Rose, Dress like Blanche, Think like Dorothy, and Speak like Sophia"? I think I very much follow this mantra, Live like "Rose" intuitively. As a creator, a writer, an artist; I’m eternally optimistic and in a way live in my own little creative world. Dressing like "Blanche" is about knowing your best assets and putting your best foot forward. Thinking like "Dorothy" is about being analytical and sincere with a level-head. I would however like to have a few more zingers like "Sophia," but I’d like to think I speak my mind.
9. If you had to live your life according to The Golden Girls, what are five lessons you learned from watching the show?
- You’re a very lucky person if you can count your best friends on one hand.
- Cheesecake is one of the greatest desserts (my Grandmother also taught me that one).
- It’s ok to make mistakes as long as you learn from them.
- What you think are flaws can be your greatest strengths.
- The older you get, the better you get. Unless you’re a banana.
10. Which Golden Girl are you most like? It’s a coin toss – I don’t know if I should be telling someone to "go to sleep and pray for brains" or praying for myself.
Jonathan Rockefeller is the co-founder of Rockefeller Productions, a company that combines film, theatre, animation, puppetry and television. He also devotes time to philanthropic work furthering childhood literacy and appreciation of the arts. Last year, Jonathan was selected as a "Men of Influence" by Men’s Style Australia for his work in children’s theater and literacy.
The U.S. production of The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show, based on the much beloved children’s book by Eric Carle, garnered a Drama Desk and an Off-Broadway Alliance nomination and still plays to sold-out houses in NYC. The original production of The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show debuted to a sell-out season at the Sydney Festival January 2015, and will continue to tour Australia and New Zealand through 2017. Beyond the stage, Jonathan and Eric Carle Studios teamed up to produce and direct an animated version of 10 Little Rubber Ducks based on Mr. Carle’s book of the same name and narrated by Bernadette Peters, that debuted at the UK’s Bath Film Festival in December.
Prior to his work with Eric Carle, Jonathan co-wrote and produced the puppet-parody Thank You for Being a Friend which has been licensed for further productions worldwide. Other projects include the documentary Road to Pride Rock: The Making of the Lion King and the screenplay Coming of Age developed with Screen New South Wales and the Dungog Film Festival’s In the Raw program.
Accolades include a Cannes Lion nomination, multiple Clio and Media Awards, High Commendations at Australian Cinematographer’s Guild [ASC], Best Television Current Affairs at the National Media Awards for an unvarnished documentary about life on the street in Boy from the Blue Room, and "Best Unproduced Screenplay" at the Aus MTV Awards for Satisfaction, a satirical tale of becoming an assistant on the "world’s most expensive perfume commercial."
By complete coincidence, Jonathan was a protégé of Baz Luhrmann, with a career that began during film school. At age 17, he convinced his formidable mentor to take him on as an apprentice by literally sitting in a gutter outside Baz’s house with an ambitious cardboard sign declaring "Bazmark or Bust." Jonathan worked with Baz on the US production of La Boheme and the Chanel No 5 commercial featuring Nicole Kidman. A book inspired by his time working under Baz Luhmrann is currently being competed.