Sunday, April 15, 2012

Muppets Take Manhattan

Today I made the trip into Manhattan to see the Muppets, Fraggles, Sesame Street performers, and Emmet Otter's Jug-Band perform a musical tribute to Jim Henson at Carnegie Hall with the New York Pops.

(and they did do this joke during the show)

Let me give you a little review. I should mention a few things. First, I was up high, in the balcony. To the naked eye, the puppet-like characters were small and far away. I wish there was a video feed with a video screen to show a better angle. For that matter, I wish there was an official video production of the shows that could air on PBS during a pledge drive and become available on DVD/BluRay because the show was FREAKING AWESOME! Ok, back on topic, being up high allowed me to see over the screens that were set up to hide the Muppet performers from the audience. I actually liked that part, where I could see over them, because I got a sense of behind the scenes of what these very talented performers really do. I could kind of guess what characters might be coming on next based on what performer was where. Sometimes, just from the tops of their heads. I also didn't know every Muppet performer, but I know most of them by sight.

Second, there were a few points during the show where the microphones didn't pick up everything that was being said. Oh well, it was a live show, not a movie or TV program. And third, this was a kids show, and there were a LOT of little kids there. There was a constant sound from the balcony throughout the show of children noises (crying, talking, and other things that come out of children). The kids in my immediate area were very well behaved, but there was a sound in the room that didn't go away. Fourth, there were no pictures allowed, and ushers were running around during the performance telling people to put their cameras away. That said, in testing my camera before the performance, I had trouble with the lighting where I was and the distance to the stage to get a lot of good pictures, but damn, there were a few times when I really wish I could have a good, clear, non-distant picture of the moment, and I don't have that. Another reason why I wish there was an official video feed of the show. I have seen a bootlegged video clip up on YouTube already.

Before the show, we were entertained by a few Jim Henson/Muppet TV appearances on the video screen behind the performers. During the show, that screen showed either Jim Henson's picture, video montages related to whatever character(s) were being featured in the script/song, or words to a few songs.

Composition-wise, there were large black screens on the left-front and right-front of the stage where most of the puppetry took place, and there was a smaller screen just right of center in the front, next to the piano, where a few puppets lived. Then the orchestra was on stage and the choir was in the back on risers. There were also very tall white screens on the left and right near the stage exits where I saw some performers standing, just as a place to be out of the way of the door, hidden, and getting ready for their next bit. From my angle, I could also see stagehands and performers scurrying from the stage exits to/from the puppet screens in the front as the performers and puppets were getting into place.

Now, on to the show.
There was a bit of a story, in that the host, John Tartaglia, had the wrong date, and none of the "special guests" were going to show up for the audience, so when Fozzie Bear pops up after messing up the date he was given (2 wrongs made a right), Fozzie has to go find the others to get there for the show. Of course, Fozzie is there for the comedy. That's only natural. Lucky for us (at least as the script goes), all of these different "guests" appear on stage. And you probably don't want to hear about the story, you want to hear about the music.

(this was the second time I was scolded for using a camera during the show, and you can also see that the picture is a bit blurry - believe me when I say this is one of the better ones taken with the zoom).
Most of Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem were there at the very start (no Animal at all during the show), along with Rowlf. Dr. Teeth and Rowlf split time on the piano.

Some of these, I probably have out of sequence. Their order really doesn't matter.

Statler and Waldorf appeared in the 2nd tier of seats, over on the right, just where you'd expect to find them. They were so well staged, I couldn't even see the Muppet performers.

We also had a skit covering part of the gang from Fraggle Rock. Namely, Wembley, Red, and Traveling Matt, along with a music medley. Traveling Matt's backstory really allows for the Fraggles to go anywhere and bring the jokes. No appearances by Gobo (one place where nobody has replaced Jerry Nelson) or Mokey or Boober (Dave Goelz performs both Traveling Matt and Boober, and in this setting, he really couldn't do both, and Traveling Matt was more essential to the plot). Gorgs and Doozers would have been a little much. Come to think of it, there were no full-bodied Muppets at all (unless they sang a lot, it probably wouldn't have made sense for them to be there).

Then there was a song medley from Emmet Otter's Jug-Band and composer Paul Williams (a human person). I don't really know much about them.

We had a nice long appearance from the human cast of Sesame Street (Roscoe Orman, Dr. Loretta Long, Bob McGrath, Sonia Manzano, and 3 or 4 others who I don't know -- sorry about that, but I haven't watched Sesame Street in close to 30 years) along with the most of the famous Sesame Street Muppets - Elmo, Ernie, Bert, and Cookie Monster. With all of the kids in the audience, and parents of those kids, I think the Sesame Street bit (it was probably just as long as the Fraggles and Emmet Otter combined, if not even longer) was the most well received. But nothing from Oscar the Grouch or Big Bird. Despite not having seen an episode of Sesame Street in almost 30 years, I think I knew most of the songs. For me, it seemed weird NOT seeing Kermit the Frog with that group, but I can understand how that would be difficult for Steve Whitmire who was also playing Ernie (more important to Sesame Street for Ernie to be there than Kermit, and Kermit hasn't been a part of the show in many years).

And then we got the biggest stars of the Jim Henson world (and no, I don't mean the creatures from The Dark Crystal), the Muppets. First was Miss Piggy appearing "early" for "next week's" show getting snippy about the show being today. I already mentioned Rowlf, Dr. Teeth, Janice, Floyd Pepper, Zoot, and Fozzie Bear. This was all set up by Fozzie Bear making another mistake finding the "special guests" confusing the word "Muppet" with "muffin", bringing back a plate of muffins instead of his friends. Host John Tartaglia assured Fozzie that it was alright, and broke into "Just One Person" which allowed the Muppet characters to appear one-by-one (taking roll call, in addition to the others, there was Kermit, Gonzo, Scooter, Beauregard, Bunson and Beaker). They followed with other Muppet songs, including Kermit's "It's Not Easy Being Green". And of course, there was The Muppet Show theme and "Mah Nà Mah Nà". They did one from The Muppet Movie, "Moving Right Along" in the medley. I know I'm missing other songs.

No appearances from The Swedish Chef, Sam The Eagle, or Camilla the Chicken. But hey, this was about music and not characters. I wish they had included Gonzo's song from The Muppet Movie, "I'm Going to Go Back There Someday".

It all ended with "Rainbow Connection" and all of the guests coming back together on stage one last time. And the Muppet performers came out from behind the curtain to take a bow. As well they should.

One other note, that I found in watching some of the bootlegged videos, was that Jerry Nelson, retired from performing, did the "announcer" voices. I knew that voice sounded familiar (think of the announcer for Pigs In Space on The Muppet Show).

Overall, it was a great sight. Jim Henson created all of these different worlds (Emmet Otter, The Muppets, Fraggle Rock, and the Sesame Street Muppets), and right now, they're split up between 3 different entities (Sesame Street owns their Muppets, Disney owns the group known as The Muppets, and Henson still owns Emmet Otter and Fraggle Rock), even though most of the Muppet performers really are used across the different groups; so you aren't going to see a mixed performance like this very often (especially with the Sesame Street human characters included). I'm sure a versatile performer like Steve Whitmire doesn't get to perform as Kermit, Ernie, and Wembley Fraggle on the same day very often (he also performed in the Emmet Otter bit). Seeing all of Henson's worlds come together on stage in sketch and song was just amazing.

Update: the Muppet Central forum has comments from other fans about the two shows. I left a few words on page 3 of that thread.
Update: has pulled together a number of bootleg videos from the two shows. And of course, there is a detailed entry on Muppet Wikia that includes a couple of my pictures.

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