At 50, show goes on for Pip the Mouse
It's a tradition.
For 50 years, "Pip: The Mouse Before Christmas" has been delighting children of all ages. The annual staging of "Pip" began in 1962. This popular holiday puppet show made its debut at Hess's department store which was located in the heart of Allentown's downtown shopping district at Ninth and Hamilton streets.
During the 1960's, the original "Pip the Mouse" puppet show was performed in the large display window at the front of the store and could be viewed by passersby on the sidewalk. The show was the creation of Dr. George R. Creegan, owner of The Creegan Company, Steubenville, Ohio, a leading manufacturer of animatronic and hand puppets.
The set for "The Mouse Before Christmas" was created by the Bliss Display Company, which was founded in the 1920's and notable for creating theatrical window displays for New York's Lord & Taylor, B. Altman and Macy's, as well as for large department stores across the United states.
Of the various holiday puppet sets manufactured by the Bliss Display Company, the "Pip" set is the only one known to survive.
While the puppet stage was created by Bliss, the script, puppets and soundtrack were entirely the work of Creegan.
The last performance of "Pip the Mouse" at the iconic department store, then owned by Bon-Ton, was 1995. The Hamilton Street landmark shuttered its doors in 1996. The "Pip" set and the puppets were then donated to the Allentown Economic and Development Corp., which continued the show at the Allentown Public Library from 1996 - 2001.
During the years 2001 - 2002, the set was restored by volunteers from the Civic Theatre of Allentown and in 2003 the puppets and displays were donated to the Liberty Bell Museum, 622 W. Hamilton St., Allentown., which has continued the classic holiday show to the present time. The museum restored and digitized the original soundtrack in 2003.
"Pip: The Mouse Before Christmas" is true to the original puppet show that would have been enjoyed 50 years ago. Timing is everything as the performance follows the original soundtrack voiced by Creegan and his wife.
It takes a team of three puppeteers working behind and alongside the large wooden set to keep the action flowing. Doors and windows on the set open and close while Pip roams throughout and on top of the house that is the setting for the show, which is performed at noon, 1 and 2 p.m. Monday - Saturday and continues through Dec. 29.
The approximately 10-minute puppet show is supplemented by storytelling prior to show time and a tour of the displays and artifacts in the museum afterward. A highlight of the event is an opportunity for children to meet a larger than life version of Pip, who rings the replica of the Liberty Bell in the museum.
The exhibit, "A Mouseum of Memories: Pip Celebrates Fifty Years," continues at the museum.
The last performances party and closing ceremony is noon - 3 p.m. Dec. 29.