‘Avanti Da Vinci’ puppet show returns with slapstick for teens, adults

Credit: Courtesy of Center for Puppetry Arts

Credit: Courtesy of Center for Puppetry Arts

This story was originally published by ArtsATL.

Pow! Bam! Zap! Da Vinci!

These and other strange noises will echo at the Center for Puppetry Arts this month as “Avanti Da Vinci,” a puppet show for older teens and adults, is restaged for the first time in 17 years.

The production, which imagines artist Leonardo da Vinci as a superhero, is written and directed by Jon Ludwig and Jason Hines. It runs through June 25.

Ludwig, the artistic director for the center, said the suggestion for the zany show began with Hines many years back. “He said one day, ‘If da Vinci’s machines worked, he’d be like Batman,’” Ludwig said. “That intrigued us because, in studying da Vinci’s life, he was kind of like a masked hero.”

The show that emerged combined elements of the 1960s “Batman” sitcom starring Adam West with da Vinci’s own sketches and notes. There is a helicopter-like vehicle, glider wings and the Vitruvian Man used in a surprising way.

In the plot, da Vinci the caped crusader confronts the evil, incestuous Borgia family with his contraptions, fighting crime in Venice as “Renaissance Man” while saving local damsel Mona Lisa from danger. It’s farce and wild storytelling, intended to appeal to fans of comics, da Vinci and puppetry.

The puppet show, which is for ages 16 and up, is a blast.

“It’s a chance to show off what we can do in terms of spectacle and melodrama,” said Ludwig, who received a theater-focused Suzi Bass Lifetime Achievement Award in 2022 and has inspired generations of puppeteers with his work.

The show’s website warns that it contains “slapstick violence, adult language, sexual situations and raunchy humor.”

“It is an adult show, but it’s only an adult show because the ideas are a little more complicated and the story’s a little darker than what we can do for kids,” Hines said. “But it’s still just silly, and we’re having a really good time being the goofballs we are.”

Credit: Courtesy of Center for Puppetry Arts

Credit: Courtesy of Center for Puppetry Arts

Da Vinci himself would approve, Ludwig said. Much of the humor comes from the artist’s own notebooks.

“He would appreciate the fart humor because he wrote the fart jokes in the show,” Ludwig said. “There’s a joke where the two henchmen are out in the garden waiting to get Mona Lisa. One farts, and the other guy says ‘I know you’re fond of me. I can tell which way the wind blows and keep track of you.’”

For the creators, revisiting the material has been like a family reunion. Of the five original cast members, four have returned: Ludwig, Hines, Reay Maxwell and Michael Haverty. Puppet and set builders who collaborated on the first productions have returned to prepare the show.

“Putting this back up has really been like time travel,” Hines said. “It’s like opening up an old journal and looking at something you wrote 17 years ago, remembering who you were back then and all the things you were thinking.”

Even the sets and puppets used during the original productions have been pulled from the center’s warehouse for use. Because the pieces had been carefully packed in shipping containers after two Atlanta stagings and a festival performance in Slovakia, Hines said a lot of the material is in good condition. And he was reminded that the show itself is huge.

“We just didn’t know any better and built something that was just massive, like we just kept going and going, doing what felt right,” Hines said. “Now, coming back to it, I look at it in wonder, like ‘How did we do this? There’s so much in the show.’”

Ludwig and Hines said the current show won’t be an exact replica of the original, in part because of the inclusion of new people and what the intervening years have taught them.

“We’re not the same people that we were,” Hines added. “So of course, there are different decisions now. We’re not just trying to recreate it exactly like we did back then. There’s no reason to do that.”

Ludwig said many of the puppeteers had new ideas for the show, including better gags and more heartfelt moments.

Hines bristles at the suggestion that the show has educational value in terms of art history and science, saying the primary goal is just fun.

“It’s a self-conscious sendup of itself,” he said. “We break the fourth wall all the time. And as we’re telling the story, we have fun with the idea of storytelling. We take theater and comic book forms and put them in a blender.”


Avanti Da Vinci

Through June 25. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays. $26-$30. Center for Puppetry Arts, 1404 Spring St. NW, Atlanta. 404-873-3391, puppet.org.


Benjamin Carr, a member of the American Theatre Critics Association, is an arts journalist and critic who has contributed to ArtsATL since 2019. His plays have been produced at The Vineyard Theatre in Manhattan, as part of the Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Short Play Festival and at the Center for Puppetry Arts. His novel “Impacted” was published by The Story Plant in 2021.

Credit: ArtsATL

Credit: ArtsATL


ArtsATL (www.artsatl.org), is a nonprofit organization that plays a critical role in educating and informing audiences about metro Atlanta’s arts and culture. Founded in 2009, ArtsATL’s goal is to help build a sustainable arts community contributing to the economic and cultural health of the city.

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