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Dark art Gypsy Theatre uses black lights to create some holiday cheer

"It's a Wonderful World!" is the self-fulfilling name of Gypsy Theatre's holiday concoction, which opens tonight and runs this weekend only. In the one-hour, 15-song revue, black light and black-on-black theater techniques are combined and used to mind-boggling effect.

Lit only by ultraviolet black light, white and fluorescent colors glow brightly. And in black-on-black theater, the performers, in black from head to toe, are essentially invisible against the black stage and background. The combination creates the perfect setting for some amazingly imaginative scenes.

The show's 15 brief set pieces are each choreographed to go with a specific song and feature such diversions as Day-Glo reindeer, disembodied, white-gloved hands and puppets in the shape of exotic fish and coral reefs.

Other intensely colored, fantastic props hand-built for the production include plastic foam penguins and ice floes and feather-covered flamingos that, when manipulated by their human counterparts, dance, shimmy and shine.

The husband-and-wife team of John Dalingwater and Bernadette Feeney is responsible; he is Gypsy Theatre's artistic director and the show's designer, she conceived and directed the show.

"Though there are no spoken words in the show, each musical number is a little, scripted story," Feeney said.

The show's nine performers are highly trained puppeteers . . . and all grade-school-aged girls, products of Gypsy Theatre's academy program.

Tiffany Johnson, 10, says that she enjoys the performing experience.

"This is something I might want to do when I'm older, too," she said.

Two of the girls are literally products of Feeney and Dalingwater: their daughters, Bailey and Phoenix, who have been performing much of their lives.

"It is great to hear the reactions of the audience trying to figure out how we do some of the things in the show," said Bailey Dalingwater, 17.

The first number, set to the swing song "In the Mood," uses long streamers, like those that gymnasts flourish during a floor routine. They appear to fly around by themselves, in rhythm. Real thrills and delight are simply evoked through the mounting anticipation as the song goes through its numerous false endings.

Another number, "Makin' Whoopee," features life-sized male and female puppets, shaped like stick figures but made of lithe, slinky feather boas. Their movements will delight children -- and accompanying adults will find fun in the literal interpretation of the saucy lyric.

At several points during the show, Feeney will demonstrate how some of the results are achieved. She goes into the audience, giving children and adults the chance to ask questions. Providing this outlet supports her and Dalingwater's mission to build relationships with their audience, and to make live theater an ongoing part of children's lives.

Only two out of the 15 pieces qualify as "holiday" songs, but an effervescent mood is created by this universally appealing show. Its wonderful and memorable effects are a visual adventure -- one that would make the trip over the border worthwhile in any season.

WHAT: "It's a Wonderful World!"

WHEN: 8 tonight, 2 and 8 p.m., Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Gypsy Theatre, 465 Central Ave., Fort Erie, Ont.

TICKETS: $8 children, $15 adults (Canadian funds)

INFO.: (905) 871-4407 or www.gypsytheatre.com

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