By Alison Baumgartner
From Blanche’s romantic escapades to Rose’s ludicrous stories from St. Olaf’s, The Golden Girls has captured the hearts of America for almost four decades. This beloved sitcom received critical acclaim throughout most of its seven-season run, winning two Emmys and three Golden Globes while ranking in the top ten six times in the Nielsen ratings. Whether you watched the primetime broadcasts or caught the show in its very popular syndication, The Golden Girls remains a cultural phenomenon today. And now you can experience all the hilarity and hijinks of the sitcom in a whole new way with That Golden Girls Show! – A Puppet Parody on April 24 at The Lincoln Center.
“We have such a huge fanbase for our show and The Golden Girls in general,” says Samantha Lee Mason, the puppeteer portraying Rose in the upcoming performance. “It’s just been mind-blowing with how much people are obsessed with these characters, and with these storylines. It’s amazing to be able to bring the show to life for them.”
The Golden Girls may have first aired in 1985, but Mason thinks that there is so much to love in the show today. “I think the show was very ahead of its time,” says Mason. “The characters and everything they are facing in their everyday lives, they’re still issues that people can relate to today. I think that above everything else, the show is about relationships. It’s about these four people who really love each other.”
Mason goes on to say, “Our show is 100% a love letter to the original show. Our story is told in three episodes. It’s an amalgamation of all your favorite lines from the show, but it’s also very funny for people who have never seen an episode of The Golden Girls. I think right off the bat, you can understand the characters’ relationships with each other, even if you’ve never seen an episode. If you have seen the show or are very familiar with the show, those Easter egg moments are really going to pop.”
While half the fun is reliving the greatest moments of The Golden Girls, the other half is the life the puppets breathe into the beloved characters. “The thing about puppets is that you can live in somewhat of an elevated world,” says Mason. “So a lot of things that the characters can do as puppets is a little more heightened than what a real human character can do. There’s lots of physical comedy that I think is fun to experience with the audience.”
Both a veteran of musical theatre and a seasoned puppeteer, it’s hard for Mason to choose which she loves to perform best. However, her heart and soul is in playing Rose right now. “When people experience my portrayal of Rose, I want them to be looking first and foremost at the puppet. Because I can also be seen on stage, the audience melds my expressions and physicality into Rose and together I form this whole character of Rose.”
The show, however, does not just rely on the puppet’s antics to entertain. The show emulates the experience of a live taping, complete with commercials between each “episode.”
“Part of why I do this for a living is to make people laugh,” says Mason. “I just love that feeling. Especially with this show, people do not stop laughing. It’s quite literally 75 minutes of just laughter.”
Which character does Mason love the most? Why, Rose, of course. Played in the series by the comedic icon Betty White, Rose was known for her naivety and her humorously peculiar stories of life growing up in her hometown of St. Olaf, Minnesota. “I’m a little bit biased, but Rose is definitely my favorite. I identify with her the most, even before I was cast to play her. I like how good she is. And I like her sense of optimism. I think that even though she’s a little bit naive, she’s a lot smarter than everyone gives her credit for.”
But it’s not just Rose she is fascinated by. “Betty White’s comedic timing is so amazing,” says Mason. “Any chance I get to try and emulate that, it’s just the most fun.”
The passing of Betty White had a very deep impact on Mason. “I tried to consume as much Betty White material as I could before performing. I was in the middle of the tour when she passed away, and it hit me really hard because I felt like I knew her through exploring her work and her character. I think everyone feels that way. They felt like they knew her.”
That Golden Girls Show will be a perfect time to celebrate not just Betty White’s portrayal of Rose, but all of the amazing cast of characters that so many people have come to adore. “Audiences can look forward to a really wonderful time at the theater where they just get to relax and have fun and spend time with these characters that they know and love.” says Mason. “Especially in the times we live in, it’s so important to be able to go to the theater and just laugh.”
Grab your golden ticket to catch all the hysterics and hijinks live at The Lincoln Center on Sunday, April 24. Seats from $20 at LCtix.com.