"Luna's Sea" took people, yes, under the sea when it debuted in Mystic last year. The show - a performance piece calling upon puppet, dance and cool blacklight effects - details a girl's journey through the different levels of the ocean.
Cornerstone Productions staged the piece at its home base at Olde Mistick Village Art Cinemas and is now taking it on the road, to a rather famous locale.
On Saturday and Sunday, "Luna's Sea" will be featured at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. It'll be part of the museum's Monthly Family Series.
"We're so overwhelmed with gratitude," says "Luna's Sea" co-creator Linda Wingerter of being asked to perform there.
Cornerstone, founded by Karl Gasteyer and Hunter Charnow, has been staging its musical variety shows and musical comedies at Olde Mistick Village Art Cinemas since 2008. Gasteyer and Wingerter worked together to create "Luna's Sea," an idea that grew from Cornerstone's discussions with neighboring Mystic Aquarium about finding a way to collaborate.
Suzanne Morris, who is the senior manager of public programs for the American Museum of Natural History, says she had been looking for a program to tie into the museum's new exhibition about bioluminescent creatures. She scouted a few different things - and found the Mystic show. She travelled to see it last year and thought it was wonderful.
"I learned a little more about how they had worked with (Mystic) Aquarium to create accurate depictions of the underwater creatures, and I thought it was really fantastic," Morris says.
Morris says she particularly appreciated that "Luna's Sea" was not only artistically impressive but also scientifically accurate. The puppets were built to reflect real creatures - and were handled by puppeteers so they move the way those creatures would, with choreography by Christine Poland.
"It's just a beautifully put-together show," Morris says.
The cast consists of a gaggle of young adults - and two high-school students. Kaitlyn Kuvalanka, who is a junior at East Lyme High School, acts and dances the role of Luna. Weston Long, a junior at Waterford High School, is a puppeteer in the production.
Kuvalanka has never been to the American Museum of Natural History before and says of performing there, "I can't even believe I'm really going."
"Luna's Sea" marks her seventh show with Cornerstone. She was invited to perform with the group after Gasteyer went to the Spirited Soles Irish Dance Academy in Montville to search for dancers for a St. Patrick's show. Now, Kuvalanka says of the Cornerstone folks, "They're kind of like a second family to me."
Kuvalanka says of "Luna's Sea," "It's been a great experience. It's just a beautiful show."
Long likewise has enjoyed the "Luna's Sea" process. In preparing for last year's performances, he went to the Mystic Aquarium to study how various sea creatures moved.
"It wasn't just bringing them to life in a basic way. You had to give them each a character," he says.
Long has been interested in puppetry since he was a young kid. He became fascinated with Big Bird when watching "Sesame Street." At age 5, he began writing letters to Caroll Spinney, who plays Big Bird, and explained he was interested in puppetry. The enthusiastic Long went on to write multiple letters to Spinney, who responded with a handwritten letter with cartoon drawings. Spinney has mentored Long and even invited him to the "Sesame Street" set. The two became friends, with Long meeting Spinney's wife (they have a home in Connecticut) and Spinney meeting Long's family.