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Actors in puppet parody of 'The Golden Girls' honor Betty White

'That Golden Girls Show' plays the Fargo Theatre on Thursday night.

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"That Golden Girls Show" revives the classic sitcom characters with puppets.
Contributed / Lu Zielinski
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FARGO — Lu Zielinski always wanted to be on “Sesame Street,” but instead of singing songs with Elmo, she’s found herself trading barbs with elderly lady puppets.

Zielinski recently joined the cast of "That Golden Girls Show: A Puppet Parody," as Blanche Devereaux. The touring production brings puppet versions of the four main characters to life and delivers some of the classic sitcom’s biggest jokes.

“To be able to play these iconic women is so incredible,” Zielinski says.

The bond between the actors and the characters is so strong, the recent death of comic legend Betty White, who played Rose Nylund on the sitcom, hit the cast hard.

“Our Rose was beside herself,” Zielinski says.

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On Monday, Jan. 17, what would have been White’s 100th birthday, the actor who plays Rose, Samantha Lee Mason, took over "That Golden Girls Show's" Instagram account to honor the late actress.

White may never have seen the puppet version of the show, but the young actors all grew up on “The Golden Girls,” even if the show originally aired from 1985 to 1992 — before they were watching in prime time. Zielinski grew up watching the show in syndication.

“That solidified who I am as a comedian,” she says.

She doesn’t necessarily identify with Blanche’s history as a Southern belle, or her current status as self-centered and man-hungry, but she appreciates her as a character.

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Lu Zielinski finds herself playing to the crowd to deliver Blanche's line.
Contributed / Lu Zielinski

“I cannot say I live such a salacious life,” Zielinski says. “I love her because she’s a charmer and gets what she wants in life. She’s so unabashed about herself. It’s her confidence I identify with. I think it’s amazing.”

She never thought about becoming a puppeteer until last year when she heard the show was looking for a new Blanche. She auditioned and then took a crash course in puppeteering to learn how to act with her hand stuffed into a fuzzy head.

“It was a whirlwind experience,” she says. “It’s like learning a piano concerto without sheet music and with a Southern dialect. It’s so crazy. Puppeteers don’t get nearly enough credit.”

Onstage, the actors don’t hide behind props, and she’s found herself facing the audience at times to deliver punchlines.

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“I definitely do play to the audience quite a bit,” she says. “I have zero facial filter so whatever happens explodes on my face. We are breaking the fourth wall in that way.”

One of the things she had to get used to was where she should look: at the puppet or the actor she’s playing opposite.

“You’d think you’d want to look at the puppet’s eyes. My connection with the puppet is so much stronger, but then I catch my fellow actors’ eyes and realize we’ve found something to explore,” she says.

The live production basically restages two episodes with just some minor tweaks.

“There are a couple of modern jokes, but we’re not trying to do anything current,” Zielinski says. “We’re paying homage to the series. If you know the show, well, you can call out some of the lines.”

The show that made her laugh as a little girl now makes her smile for a different reason as an adult.

“Now it’s turned into a comfort show for me. It makes me feel at ease,” she says. “At the end of the day, it shows you what friendship is. You can tease them to no end, but it’s all rooted in friendship.”

She’s gained new friends since joining the tour last year, and the passing of White only bolstered the actors’ friendship.

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“It solidified our love for each other,” she says. “I’m spoiled rotten with this opportunity. I’m the luckiest woman on the planet.”

If you go

What: "That Golden Girls Show"
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 20
Where: Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway
Info: Tickets are $39.50, plus fees; masks are required for all audience members

Related Topics: THEATERFARGOTELEVISION
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