On most evenings in NYC, you’re faced with a tough choice: whether to see a play, live comedy, live music or good-looking guys playing with puppets (go with me on this one). Jollyship the Whiz-Bang, whose sold-out run at Ars Nova has been extended through July 20, provides a little of each, relieving you of the arduous task of making decisions. Jollyship is a “pyrate puppet rock opera consortium,” equal parts strobe-heavy rock show, relentless comedy hour and swashbuckling human- and puppet-populated narrative. The elements merge to form a swirling maelstrom of head-nodding beats and pitch-perfect humor as the crew travels in search of Party Island, where (puppet) Captain Clamp promises “the drinks are free and the girls are half-off on Wacky Wednesday.”
No attempt is made to hide the hands and strings behind the beautiful, hilariously detailed puppets (creator/star/lead singer Nick Jones won a grant in 2007 from the Jim Henson Foundation) as the performers glide smoothly from skilled puppeteering to rocking out and back again. Jollyship comes across like Avenue Q’s cooler younger brother, although the twelve songs by musical director Raja Azar (“Mr. Skeevy”) are fun but not really catchy or memorable. (This may be due to the extremely high decibel level — a seven-piece rock band reverberating inside a black box for two hours is a considerable — and sometimes painful — force to be reckoned with.) The self-referential Brooklyn/pop culture jokes keep coming, even in the musical numbers (“There’s no time for romance/now I’m working freelance”), but the plot dives deeper, treating homophobia and religious zealotry with surprising discernment. Overall, though, Jollyship the Whiz-Bang is simply fun, overflowing with the kind of energy that only a rock concert cum raucous comedy show can create.