In the foyer stands a ticket booth he built with furniture including an antique sideboard scavenged from the roadside.

For Kitch in Sax Blues, which opened last month, Cano collaborated with local choreographer Katherine Kramer and dancer Joanne Barrett. The production also features Matt Taylor performing on the saxophone and Bruce Johnston on the bass. "This is so different from all of my other projects," Cano says. "I wanted something more theatrical, with more entertainment, more like vaudeville, and this is much more like a coming together of many artistic minds than only focused on my work."

In fact, Red Velvet Theater's debut 45-minute production boasts a bit of everything. "Joanne Barrett is not only an incredible dancer but an excellent pastry chef," he says. "So she is actually baking apple tarts as part of the show, and we had the kitchen miked so the sounds of the grater and running water from my sink can be heard."

Pablo Cano with Boring Boris. View a slide show of Pablo Cano and his puppets.
Liam Crotty

Details

Kitch in Sax Blues: At Pablo Cano's Red Velvet Theater. Tickets cost $40 and include appetizers, champagne, coffee, and pastries. For upcoming dates, visit canoart.com or email pdcano@bellsouth.net.

It also features a cast of ten eye-popping marionettes Cano created. There's Chinese Princess; a burlesque queen called Kandy Kane; characters named Bojangles, Boring Boris, and Poindexter Ant; and even Louis Armstrong and Fred Astaire.

Cano used a black-ribbed toilet float and a salt shaker to make his dancing ant's body. He fashioned its head with part of a hubcap. The insect's arms and legs are bits of purse straps. And Kandy Kane, which was censored from Cano's upcoming exhibit at the Vero Beach Museum of Art in 2013 for being too risqué, has a basket for a noggin and balloons for breasts.

"I had to make the rods for her very secure because she uses an ostrich feather fan in a dance. I also hand-sewed lingerie for her I made with found fabric and objects she tosses into the audience as part of her act."

The production is intimate, and only 15 guests can be accommodated during shows. Tickets cost $40, and when visitors arrive at the box office, they receive a strip of red velvet along with their stub. The price of admission also includes appetizers, pastries, coffee, and champagne.

When the lights dim, glowing candles scattered throughout the space and the scent of baking pastries delight the senses and whet the appetite. During the show, Cano, Kramer, Barrett, and the musicians each have solos in which they perform with the individual marionettes. They collaborate as an ensemble at other times. The audience is in the thick of the diversion as the performers engage them with their marionettes and movements in a mesmerizing way.

Kramer, who has worked with Cano on ten MOCA productions, credits the show's beguiling nature to the long collaborative history that she, Cano, and Barrett share. "We all have a close relationship and the freedom to bring our unique talents to the table," she says. "The magic of this production is that it draws in the audience in a visceral way. We are performing in and around spectators in a very playful yet sophisticated fashion. I think of it a little bit like Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland getting together and saying, 'Let's make a show!'" Kramer muses before adding, "And we are having a blast."

On an early afternoon last week before rehearsals, Cano sat on the floor of his parlor theater and fished a crushed blue-velvet bag from a cabinet. In it were a prized collection of vintage records by 1920s and '30s crooners who inspire the scores for his shows.

"I really love Irving Berlin, Eddie Cantor, Cole Porter, Al Dubin, Tin Pan Alley music, and old-time jazz. I also enjoy Connie Francis and Mama Cass and other singers with distinctive voices," he says.

Cano, who listens to the records on his collection of hand-cranked Victrola phonographs, says the oldies motivate him, as does his father, Pablo senior, a musician who has written music for his son in the past. And his family is very much involved in his creative efforts these days.

"My sister Isabel sewed Fred Astaire's suit for me, and my mother, Margarita Cano, who is an artist, is my biggest critic," he laughs. "The Red Velvet Theater, everything that is happening for me now, is like a dream. I've always wanted to do something like this. Red Velvet is a vehicle I wish I would have thought of before but maybe wasn't ready to execute yet. After so many years of working with actors, writers, dancers, musicians, and others at MOCA, those experiences expanded my imagination and approach to collaborating with others, so the timing for this project is right. Please, just don't call me a puppet master."

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