Ashleigh Prince spoke with Kyle Mahoney and Ricky Downes from Paddington Gets in a Jam about their roles, the Paddington production, their careers and more! Read on for highlights from the interview, or listen to the full interview below. Tune in to Talk of the Commonwealth with Hank Stolz on WCRN 8:30 AM Fridays at 9 AM and Saturdays at 1 PM for more behind-the-scenes interviews.
Ashleigh: Hello, everyone, welcome back to Behind the Scenes at The Hanover Theatre. Now, this interview is about a special little show that I have been hyping up for a while since we were allowed to announce that it was coming to The Hanover Theatre, and that is Paddington Gets in a Jam. It’s no secret that I’m a big Paddington fan, so I’m super, super excited to welcome Paddington puppeteers, Kyle Mahoney and Ricky Downes.
Ricky and Kyle: Hello. Hi, Ashleigh. Thanks for having us.
Ashleigh: Welcome to the show, it’s so nice to have you. I was super excited for this interview all week and I think what’s extra special about today, is that today is the fifth anniversary of “Paddington 2,” the movie.
Kyle: 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, let’s not forget that.
Ashleigh: Absolutely it is. It is an incredible movie.
Ricky: A cinematic masterpiece.
Kyle: It has no business being as good as it is, but it just is.
Ashleigh: It’s fantastic. I talked about this all the time when we found out we were having Paddington. There were some people who weren’t really familiar with our special little bear, and I brought up the movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and just showed them that it is very, very well-received. And of course, he’s based on the classic children’s books, so he has quite the history. He has a lot of clout for a cute little bear.
Kyle: It’s high art Ashleigh, high art we have right here.
Ashleigh: Yes, absolutely.
Kyle: He’s been able to do movies and TV shows, and as far as my research into Paddington goes, I do believe this is the first live show that Paddington has done. I will say about the show, it’s an original story. It takes a lot from those original stories, and it is very accurate, but when we get to be Paddington, it’s nice to put a little bit of our own flair into him. That’s always a lot of fun, especially when playing a character that’s been around for a while and seeing all the different interpretations.
Ricky: The show, as Kyle was saying, it does kind of borrow certain elements from previous Paddington books. A lot of the classics, the magic show and the painting.
Kyle: Flooding the bathroom.
Ricky: Yeah, flooding the bathroom, that’s an iconic moment. It is an original script, that was spearheaded by Jonathan Rockefeller and Rockefeller Productions, and the show opened up in New York in the fall of 2019. It was going to go on tour in 2020, but obviously, because of what happened in the world, it took a break. That’s when we came in. Plot wise, it’s pretty straightforward: Mr. Curry, who is kind of a grumpy neighbor, he’s like the Squidward of the Paddington world, his Great Aunt Matilda is coming to visit. Great Aunt Matilda is a completely original character. Paddington has stopped by to pick up some sugar for his marmalade jam and Mr. Curry has coaxed our dear Paddington into doing some chores and odd jobs around the house to prepare for his aunt’s visit. Hilarity ensues because, as we all know, poor Paddington is quite the accident-prone bear.
Ashleigh: I’m curious, what do you like about stepping into Paddington’s shoes? What really attracts you to the role?
Kyle: I’ve been doing family theatre since 2016. I’ve done a lot of adaptations of stories like “Goodnight Moon” or “Elephant and Piggie,” and it’s always very interesting when you find the differences between yourself and the character, and you really have to think “this is how I would approach this naturally, but how does Paddington approach this problem?” He’s a little bit more naive than I am, he’s always thinking the best of people, and anytime something goes wrong or someone does a little dig at him, he doesn’t really realize it. He’s just like “that’s just a funny little phrase that I’m not familiar with, because I’m still learning about this new place” coming from Peru and now being in London. It’s fun to get to step into those shoes and find those differences, and it’s good to step into his shoes because he gets to walks around barefoot most of the time and that’s much more comfortable.
Ricky: Quite literal, “bear foot,” to be honest. But similar to what Kyle said, Paddington is also a very joyful character and I think it’s very infectious. When you’re playing a character for so long, that kind of jubilance and that naivete certainly rubs off on us as performers, and as fun as puppetry is, it can be kind of physically demanding and by playing Paddington, as joyful and gentle as he is, it gives you somewhat of a Zen while you’re performing. It really helps you get into the zone, this tranquility that he brings about despite the accidents. Something that I really enjoy about performing Paddington is that while the show is certainly aimed for a younger audience, he is so accessible and never once in the show do I feel like I’m speaking down to the kids or being condescending to the audience. We’re presenting this character in its purest form, which is very accessible to the four quadrants: kids, mom and dad, teenagers and grandma and grandpa.
Everybody can get something out of Paddington Gets in a Jam and the way that we present this, I think that makes it all the more genuine and all the better theatre going experience, especially for a lot of these people.Ricky Downes
Ricky: For a lot of these kids, it is their first theatrical experience ever, so I certainly hope that it leaves them wanting to come back to the theatre.
Ashleigh: What is the moment in the show or a certain joke in the show that like really brings the house down? Can you share any of those?
Kyle: I will say that they’re always a fan of the physical comedy, one moment that I always enjoy is when Paddington decides that he’s going to be baking a cake, and the very first time he drops in a whole egg. It’s this metal bowl and it just makes this really loud clang and it always just gets a big laugh. I just love it because the baking scene is one of my favorite scenes to perform. It’s almost a little “Amelia Bedelia” of him. When we come and you see the show, you’ll see what I mean.
Ricky: There’s so many hilarious moments. I think of the bathroom scene because that is just chaos in its purest form, so that’s always been a funny one. You’ve mentioned slapstick, so I’m trying to think of a line that kind of always knocks them dead. The great thing about Kyle, myself and our other costar, Anthony, is we’re all comedically inclined. So, we’ve had the opportunity to improvise, like when Paddington does the magic show and he wants to perform a trick on Mr. Curry’s watch. Mr. Curry is taking his watch off, and our beloved actor, Anthony, was taking a little bit of extra time to get that watch off his wrist and then I, as Paddington, said “Take your time. Actually, I’ll be taking it” and you heard all the dads laugh, and I could tell in their heads they were like “I’m a dad, I know a dad joke and that’s a dad joke.”
Kyle: Those are my favorite when you get those big, bellowing dad laughs. When the grown-ups laugh, that lets the kids know this must really be funny if it’s making mom and dad laugh, because sometimes the stuff kids watch isn’t always made for grown-ups. It’s not always meant to be, but once again, this was made with all Paddington audiences in mind when they wrote this. It’s not a kid show, it is a family experience you want everyone to go. When we traveled to Long Island, where we are from, my cousins and their kids came. They’re my age and a little older, and they all loved it. They all got in the front row, and I could hear them laughing, even though I couldn’t see them because we’re behind a little wall the whole show. It’s a good thing to know you’re bringing families together in a wonderful art form, not just theatre, but puppetry itself because there’s that illusion and these kids really think there’s a bear on stage and he talks like that and it’s an everyday thing, there’s nothing weird about that.
Ashleigh: What brought you to puppeteering in the first place? Let’s go with Ricky, do you have any tidbits to share?
Ricky: Sure. It’s funny, because Kyle was saying earlier, he’s certainly paying his dues and has had so much experience in children’s theater, and Kyle’s done a lot of community theatre. I’ve always loved puppetry, but I never really had done it on a professional level, with the exception of once. I did an Adult Swim pilot, and I puppeteered that, but I’m actually from the world of stand-up comedy. I do utilize puppets quite a bit in my comedy, I’m like Andy Kaufman went to Disneyworld, hopefully that gives you an idea of what kind of comedy I do. I’ve always loved puppetry, I also do a lot of voice acting, and Paddington came about because I was a hobbyist for puppetry, and I was looking at audition websites in New York. They said Rockefeller, who was the production company, had a huge block of shows that are coming up for puppeteer and I had built up quite a bit of experience doing puppetry at my day job. I’m a New Yorker and an actor, so you need a day job. I was working at the Bronx Zoo, and I was doing puppet shows there. They gave me a lot of liberty and I would just riff with the kids, so I really built up my puppetry skills there. I auditioned for Paddington, and they liked me and took me in. So many of the foundations of stand-up comedy and voice acting are definitely integral to Paddington. There was a learning curve, for sure, it was a challenge. The rehearsal definitely had put a lot of work into perfecting those puppetry skills, in terms of the mouth movements and even the physicality. I know it doesn’t sound it but holding your arm up for 10 minutes straight can get a little strenuous.
Kyle: Paddington is a 15 pound bear.
Ricky: Yeah, with a very big hat.
Kyle: So many hats.
Ricky: Yes, he has many. Paddington quite literally wears many hats. It really was great, and Kyle is also our puppet captain. He provided excellent mentorship and leadership. I kind of came into this, and maybe I can say, “Ricky’s a puppeteer” after this one. Hopefully
Ashleigh: Yeah, absolutely. Kyle, tell us a little bit about you and how you got your way to the world of puppeteering.
Kyle: I just kind of started out as a Jim Henson groupie. I just absorbed everything that he and his team made. I want to know everything about him, them and everything. From there, I expanded into the wider world of puppetry. I started making my own, performing just for fun in college, and it was when I got home from college after I graduated in 2016, that I really decided I’m going to try performing. I got my degree on things behind the camera, behind the scenes, and I’ve been in theatre since 2016. I’ve worked backstage and onstage as a regular human actor, as a puppeteer, I’ve made props.
I’ve done every little job I could because I really learned the importance of exposure to theatre at a young age and what that can do, and there is some not high-quality theatre for kids out there. Some people think that it’s just something to keep them occupied for an hour.Kyle Mahoney
Kyle: From there I had a lot of puppet mentors. We’re very fortunate living near New York City which is one of the puppet centers of the country, basically that and LA. I’ve done a lot of community theatre, I’ve done “Hand of God,” “Avenue Q,” “Little Shop of Horrors.” I’ve done little library shows of “Little Red Riding Hood.” I’ve danced and jumped and done lots and lots of crazy things. It’s making me tired, just even thinking back to all of it. Paddington is my first big project, and it’s been a lot of fun. I was not expecting to be teaching the puppeteers in the cast. I thought that I was going to be more like a small fish in a big pond, but it turned out to be quite the opposite. It’s still wonderful because now I’m getting my fellow fish bigger. Ricky has improved in such amazing noticeable way these months, I see that progress and so has our other puppeteer Anthony White, who isn’t here doing this interview with us, but he’s here in spirit.
Ashleigh: This show is just so heartwarming behind the scenes and on the stage.
Ricky: I can’t believe I forgot to mention this. Kyle mentioned Jim Henson, and I am also a huge Muppet fan. My Muppet adjacent claim to fame is in 2020, I recorded the entirety of Hamilton in the voice of The Muppets. I mentioned that in my audition, so maybe that helped me out.
Ashleigh: Okay, well, that just changed everything for me. I’m going to need this to be part of the tour now, as an opening for Paddington. This has been excellent. If I wasn’t already excited enough for this show before we began this whole talk, I’m out of my mind excited now. Is there anything that you have to say to our audience that hasn’t made the jump to get tickets yet?
Kyle: Whether or not you are a fan of Paddington already, this is a wonderful entry point. At the very least, it’s a good excuse to either watch the movies or watch the series on Nick Junior because those are taken from the original stories and just adapted in a way that’s a little less tongue in cheek than the movies, but it still works really well. It’s animated really well, Paddington just look good in CG, he looks good in stop motion, he looks good as a puppet.
Ashleigh: Well, Paddington is making his way from Peru to London to Worcester, Massachusetts. He’ll be at The Hanover Theatre on March 10 at 6:30 PM. If you haven’t gotten your tickets yet, head to TheHanoverTheatre.org and we’d be happy to see you enjoy this wonderful, wonderful story about Paddington, everyone’s favorite little bear. Now, thank you so much, Ricky and Kyle, for joining us today. It has been a pleasure speaking with you, and thank you, everyone for joining us on Behind the Scenes today. We’ll catch you next week.