Move over, Squidward: There's a new squid in town, and he's 27 feet long and tall enough for a grown man to stand inside him. He's the larger-than-life creation of Denver's self-proclaimed "puppet guy" Cory Gilstrap, who built the Bunraku-style cephalopod for the new original children's musical at the Walden Family Playhouse, Nautilus: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, based on the undersea yarn by Jules Verne. As with all Walden projects, Nautilus is a brightly detailed production, with a big-budget creative team and the effects to match, and that's where Gilstrap and his creature of the deep, a rightful nemesis for Nemo, come in. "I'm creating more than just a squid; I'm creating a monster," Gilstrap says, and that's no joke. Built from molded foam sheets, the humongous thing must be operated by two puppeteers, who conduct their horrifying business dressed as unlucky sailors caught in its tentacles. Gilstrap, a native Coloradan who set off for Hollywood at age nineteen "to seek fame and fortune," has had plenty of practice. He first learned his craft under the tutelage of special-effects artist Rob Bottin (Legend) and ended up "puppeteering for everyone under the sun." There were high points -- he designed the beloved overstuffed "Chairry" for Pee-wee's Playhouse -- but also a lot of low ones: In Hollywood, it's typical to toil in his field, doing contract work and receiving little recognition. He eventually returned to Denver, where he teaches puppet building, works with various theater productions and heads the board at The Other Side Arts, a local non-profit arts cooperative.
Gilstrap's squid will steal the show when Nautilus opens today at Walden, 14500 West Colfax Avenue, Colorado Mills in Lakewood; shows continue through March 14. Admission is $14 to $16; for reservations, call 303-590-1475. -- Susan Froyd
Classic tales with tails
Long before they ever get strung out on the celebrities -- the Britneys and the Aaron Carters and the Lil' Romeos -- of the day, little folks in America begin life with a whole different set of heroes, a set that one might say displays a whole lot more character. They have timeless names, like...Piglet and Pooh. Though many have been bastardized by spin-off media, their roots are literary, the stuff of bedtime stories and cuddling up with Mom and Dad. The Seawell Ballroom, in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, might not exactly pass for cuddly, but today's Stories on Stage presentation, Piglet, Brer Rabbit and Seuss, Oh My!, is definitely for kids. (Parents are invited to tag along, too.) Denver Center Theatre Company actors Jacqueline Antaramian, Kathy Brady, Keith Hatten, Jamie Horton and Randy Moore will read from such classics as Green Eggs and Ham and Winnie the Pooh. Shows are at 1 and 4 p.m., and admission is free, although donations will be accepted; for reservations, call 303-494-0523. -- Susan Froyd