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A comeback for Long Island Puppet Theater

The Long Island Puppet Theater in Hicksville showcases

The Long Island Puppet Theater in Hicksville showcases all its marionettes in the lobby. (Jan. 14, 2012) Photo Credit: Barbara Alper

The Little Mermaid is about to start splashing through her classic tale at the Long Island Puppet Theater in Hicksville.

And that's what Brooke Mayer, 3, of Woodbury, is waiting for as she stands in the colorful theater lobby.

" 'The Little Mermaid' is my favorite," says Brooke, enjoying a day out with her grandparents, Robert and Esther Mayer.

"She lives in the water!" Brooke says of the mermaid character she knows from the Disney movie. But in this production, she's named Serena instead of Ariel.

Inside a small free-standing building with a candy-colored facade, the Long Island Puppet Theater has been entertaining small-fry for more than a dozen years with adaptations of fairy tales and popular puppet characters. But in May, a fire in a neighboring building ignited the theater's vinyl facade. Smoke and water damage affected the building and some of the puppets.

"Everything had to be cleaned up and fixed up," says Roman Valdes, who runs the puppet theater with his wife, Eliza. After a seven-month hiatus, they reopened late last month with "The Nutcracker Spectacular."

On a recent visit, the theater looked neat and clean with no traces of fire damage. The lobby doubles as a museum, displaying about 50 puppets either made by Valdes or imported from places such as Bulgaria, Russia, Turkey, Latvia and Armenia. Valdes estimates that there are a total of 1,000 puppets in the entire collection, including hand puppets, rod puppets and marionettes. The Valdeses do the puppeteering along with two or three volunteers, Eliza says.

WHAT YOU'LL SEE

"The Little Mermaid: It's a Whole New World" is charming, colorful and definitely aimed at small children. In general, the venue's target audience is six months to 12 years old, Valdes says. To keep adults interested, "we make it very funny and silly," he adds.

The puppet theater is simple, with rows of red-and blue painted wooden benches facing a stage with a blue and gold proscenium and a red curtain. Beginning with narration and the sound of waves, "The Little Mermaid" cavorts through a story featuring dancing octopuses, a lobster emcee, a wicked sea witch and, of course, a handsome prince.

After the show, Valdes emerges from backstage. "If you want to dance with the mermaid, that's OK," Valdes says, working the marionette with his puppeteer's strings.

Matthew Krem, 5, and his sister, Halley, 3, both from Bethlehem, Pa., caught the show while visiting Long Island with their grandmother, Barbara Silver of Hempstead. Halley enjoyed watching the sea witch go through her evil paces.

Matthew's favorite part: the end, when the Little Mermaid and her princely beau swim off together happily ever after.

Says Matthew: "I liked when the guy turned into a mermaid, too."

Long Island Puppet Theater & Museum

WHEN | WHERE About 10 shows per week on Wednesdays, Fridays-Sundays and holidays at 10 Heitz Place, Hicksville

INFO 516-932-5469, lipuppet.com

ADMISSION $10-$11

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