By Tulis McCall
If the names Elmo, Cookie Monster, Grover, Bert, Ernie, The Count, and Oscar the Grouch mean anything to you, you will find something to love about this production. Just seeing all those characters in person will give you a jolt. I have watched Sesame Street on and off since the 1970’s. This is partially because I took a college course in puppetry with Frank Ballard – who now has a puppetry museum named after him. I got sucked into being the manager of one of the theatres that hosted various puppeteers at the International Puppetry Festival in Nashville where I met the Russian puppeteer Sergey Obraztsov, Albrecht Roser and Dick Myers. But the absolute best part was an impromptu performance with Jim Henson as Kermit and Carroll Spinney as Oscar the Grouch. We were outside on a hot Nashville night and the stage was makeshift at best. As I recall the show was filled with all the profanity an adult audience could wish for, along with a few bits that made us all tear up. Perfection.
All of us were under their spell, with the mental tape running – “Am I here? Am I watching Kermit and Oscar for real?”
Yes for real. Later Mr. Spinney and I became chums, and a funnier, kinder person you would not find. He got a big kick out of kids not knowing who he was. You see, he also inhabited Big Bird until just a few years before he died. And Big Bird was of course EVERYONE’s favorite.
Big Bird is not part of this musical, but the other mainstay characters more than make up for it. Cookie Monster eats the set. The Count counts. Elmo dances up a storm. And Bert and Ernie spend a lot of time searching for one another or taking a (you guessed it) bath with Rubber Ducky.
All of this is a good thing. What detracts from the show is that no one seems to have given parents and caretakers the heads up that this is a show for kids – not toddlers. At the show I attended there had to be at least two dozen little ones under the age of three which meant that the show, try as it might, was basically a glorified day care center. Children bucking and bleating, children leaving their seats saying “I am done!” and the wee ones who were either just plain terrified or who cared more about the fascinating audience around them than anything onstage. There was a plot involving the only human in the cast, but it was pretty much lost on the kkids who only wanted production numbers with the characters they recognized.
My guests at the show were a friend and her two daughters ages 4 1/2 and 8. I asked her opinion on the recommended age range and she said “Three is pushing it. Unless a parent enjoys spending money on chasing their child, telling them to shush, or feeling a generalized sense of failure, wait until your child is at the very least 4.”
FEAR NOT however because there is an alternative.
Sensory- Friendly Performances — These special performances will offer accommodations including lowered audio, raised house lighting, a “no shushing allowed” policy, fidget toys available, and designated relaxation spaces during the performance. You can find info on the website www.sesamestreetmusical.com.
If you decide to venture forth – I suggest you ask for tickets in the back half of the audience because the sight-lines are difficult to handle when you are close-up.
THROUGH DECEMBER 31. Playing at Theater 555 (555 West 42nd Street), and is presented by Rockefeller Productions and Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind the iconic “Sesame Street” television series. For all ticketing and further information, please go to www.sesamestreetmusical.com.