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Rock 'N' Roll Ventriloquist Show Tells Big Apple Tale Through Puppets

EAST VILLAGE — A cigarette-chewing Keith Richards puppet, garbage-dwelling Tompkins Square Park pigeon and plenty of punk rock will share the stage in a ventriloquist-comedy-music performance on the Bowery Wednesday night.

"The Continuing Story of Carla Rhodes," follows a transplant from a flyover state trying to make it in the Big Apple, telling the story of the title character’s experience living in the East Village and the strange cast of characters she meets along the way.

"They're all pretty demented in a great way," said the show’s creator, also named Carla Rhodes, who loosely based the performance on her own move to New York City as a young artist nearly a decade ago. “It's kind of like 'Pee-wee’s Playhouse' on acid.”

Rhodes, who got her start in ventriloquism at age 9, first dreamed up the show in 2009 and has performed it everywhere from Brooklyn to Scotland since debuting it last year at Arlene’s Grocery on the Lower East Side.

The story follows Rhodes as she makes the leap from her provincial Kentucky home to the bohemian East Village and all the quirky characters she encounters on her journey — from the Rolling Stones’ Richards and Mick Jagger, to a pigeon named "Herschel Ragbottoms" and foul-mouthed 1920s vaudevillian "Cecil Sinclaire."

"Coming from Kentucky to New York, that's something that everyone can relate to," said Rhodes, 29, who lived for years on East Fifth Street. "It's the common story of someone coming from a small town and trying make it in New York."

The artist has earned rave reviews for the show — even landing in a glossy New York magazine spread, puppet in tow — and said that the blending of genres in her performance has made it a success.

"At this point in time, I think audiences are generally bored of seeing performers that just do one thing," she said, adding that typical standup doesn't traditionally allow for poignancy or "downer moments."

That's why she incorporated elements of vaudeville, a three-piece band and an elaborate set into the show, as well as a story arc that isn’t all belly-laughs.

“I’ve had many people come and say I almost cried during that part because I went through that in New York,” Rhodes said. “It’s a blast to combine all these different things and do them all at once.”

But overcoming audience’s reticence about seeing a ventriloquist act has presented its challenges, she noted.

“There’s definitely a stigma about ventriloquism,” Rhodes said. “The main thing I hear from audience members is that I’m the only ventriloquist they’ve seen that they’ve enjoyed.”

At its heart, however, “Continuing Story,” speaks to all New Yorkers who’ve had a go at breaking through in the big city — especially those, like Rhodes, who landed in the East Village.

“It’s one of the first places I came to in New York and felt at home. That’s where I met all my favorite people in New York,” she said of the neighborhood. “So many great artists and performers and all these wonderful people. All the characters along Avenue A that I met and all the people in the neighborhood, I feel fortunate — I wish I could have moved to the East Village earlier.”

Without giving too much away, Rhodes said audiences will leave with a sense that just maybe a fresh-faced kid from humble beginnings can come to the city and end up on top.

“At the end it gives you hope of making it New York — what we all want,” she said. “That we’re going to survive and plow through and make all of our dreams come true.”

“The Continuing Story of Carla Rhodes” at the Bowery Poetry Club, Weds., Oct. 5, 10 p.m., 308 Bowery. $10 at the door.