‘Toopy and Binoo’ come to Surrey for live show

SURREY — Many current children’s puppeteers may say they owe their career to the late Jim Henson, but in the case of Frank Meschkuleit, who got his career start with no previous puppeteer experience on one of Henson’s Muppet flicks in the mid-80s, the sentiment holds real truth.

“I fell for it when I saw adults playing for a living, like Jim Henson… and they’re all having a great time,” Meschkuleit said of his career choice. The actor was also a mainstay in ‘80s TV show, Fraggle Rock.

The longtime puppeteer and voice actor is most recently known as the voice of Toopy, from popular children’s cartoon Toopy and Binoo. The all-Canadian show, which airs on Treehouse TV and Télé Québec, is taking a step into the third dimension as characters Toopy and Binoo hit the road in a musical called Toopy and Binoo: Fun and Games.

The musical will stop at Surrey’s Bell Performing Arts Centre on Oct. 11 this year.

“I’ve been working 32 years as a puppeteer and a voice over artist, and I’ve done a lot of different kids shows and a lot of feature films stuff. Toopy is the one that has resonated the strongest and the longest of anything I’ve done,” Meschkuleit said, noting that the series has been running for nine years.

Funnily enough, the voice actor likens his own career much to the story of the character he voices on TV.

“Since you’re going to spend half of your waking life doing something, isn’t it a good thing that you can do something that’s fun?” he asked.

“My heart belongs to children’s entertainment because it harkens back to my first experience with the Muppets,” he said.

“It’s playing; it’s playing for a living. That’s what Toopy and Binoo do; they just play. Wherever their imagination takes them, it’s fine. I think that’s one of the reasons why that show has caught on and why it’s still running after nine years on the air and there are still new fans.”

Now, with his character hitting the road, Toopy fans will be able to experience the show in a new way. The silver lining? Meschkuleit says getting kids to interact with their favourite TV rat is a great way to introduce them to theatre.

“I think one of the key features of this new show, Fun and Games, is that it is a beautiful introduction to the world of theatre for kids,” he said. “The stage show is very much like a long episode of Toopy and Binoo, so if they like the TV show, they’re gonna love the stage show.”

Meschkuleit, however, will not be in attendance at the Surrey musical stop as he has pre-recorded his voice over for another actor — in costume, of course — to act out onstage.

So while it’ll be Meschkuleit’s voice heard during the show, the physical Toopy, which requires “130 per cent energy all the time,” will carry the performance.

“Everything is great for him. He’s eternally optimistic, he’s wildly in love with his best friend Binoo and happy to love anyone he meets on the crazy journey that he takes,” Meschkuleit said of Toopy.

“There isn’t a learning agenda, but the learning is about friendship and patience and play and I think those are awesome values to instill on a young person.”

Toopy and Binoo: Fun and Games comes to Surrey’s Bell Performing Arts Centre on Saturday, Oct. 11 at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Get tickets at Ticketmaster.ca, prices start at $33.75.

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