Since its debut in 1969, TV’s iconic Sesame Street children’s show has been entertaining and educating kids for 52 seasons in the US, has won a record 214 Emmy Awards and eleven Grammys, and is seen in 150 countries worldwide. Now Rockefeller Productions and Sesame Workshop (the nonprofit organization behind the pioneering TV series) have teamed up as co-producers of the new live stage show Sesame Street: The Musical, written and directed by Jonathan Rockefeller and playing a limited engagement at Theatre Row. It’s a total delight, not just for children, but for all ages who grew up watching, learning from, and laughing with the beloved Jim Henson and The Muppets.
Though Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, and Big Bird are conspicuously absent from the show, as is Kermit’s heartwarming hit song “Rainbow Connection” from The Muppet Movie of 1979 (written by Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher), Elmo, Cookie Monster, Grover, Oscar the Grouch, Bert, Ernie, Count von Count, Abby Cadabby, Rosita, Gabrielle, Honkers, Martians, and others are all there, in their original puppet form (with Tyler Bunch serving as puppet consultant, and colorful puppets and costumes by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop), to put on a musical for you, in the play-within-a-play format that happily introduces kids to the joy of the theater (expressed in the new number “We’re in a Musical!”).
Set on a raised proscenium stage (behind which puppeteers Mecca Akbar, Mia Castillo, Chris Coleman, Yanniv Frank, Joe Newman-Getzler, Joshua Peters, Rebecca Russell, Dustin Scully, and Matteo Villanueva work their magic, unseen by the audience) with a backstage dressing room, stage door, and rehearsal space at the sides, the fluffy characters each have their moment in the spotlight, and under the multi-colored lights, with featured segments and songs. So does a special guest star/member of the audience searching for his seat (played by Stephen Fala), who is trained by the puppets to sing and dance, and how to calm his nerves, for the show’s grand finale, and is reminded by them that he’s great, he should trust himself, and he can rely on the help of his friends in the cast and team – valuable life lessons for him, and everyone, in keeping with the didactic spirit of Sesame Street (as are the bilingual passages sung by Rosita, and the underlying theme of inclusivity).
The irresistible show is filled with witty meta-theatrical references that will keep the grown-up theater-lovers in the audience laughing, including a wall with headshots of the puppet cast; a backdrop of Broadway show posters with names that have been slightly modified to suit the Muppet theme (among them, Once Upon a Monster; Les Macarons; and Waiter, starring Grover, who delivers one of the funniest lines about being an actor); Cookie Monster singing a lyric from La Cage aux Folles in his own unique syntax; and Oscar the Grouch, as a critic for The New Yuck Times, who loves nothing more than trashing the shows he reviews.
There are also performances of such iconic numbers from the TV series as Cookie Monster’s “C Is for Cookie” (which he eats, then dances with a chorus line of chocolate chip treats, before inhaling another trayful), Ernie’s “Rubber Duckie” (sung in a bathtub, with bubbles raining down on the audience), his duet on “But I Like You” with his bestie Bert (in which they realize they don’t have to agree on everything to get along), “Elmo’s Got the Moves” (with different pairs of puppet shoes – ballet, tap, soft shoe, and MJ’s – dancing to a hip-hop beat); Oscar the critic’s “I Love Trash,” and more, in addition to new songs by Broadway’s Tom Kitt (“Imagination,” which makes people smile and encourages Stephen to get into costume and see all the things he can do) and Helen Park (the uplifting and affirming “You Can Be A Star,” if you “trust in yourself and follow your heart,” with Stephen in a glittery star-studded jacket and confetti falling from the heights). All were performed to a pre-recorded soundtrack, with Nate Edmondson serving as sound designer, musical director, score composer, and orchestrator.
At the end of the show, the audience is encouraged to take photographs of the puppets’ curtain call. At the risk of sounding like “Debbie the Grouch,” the production would benefit from a printed program, to help theatergoers follow the segments and songs, and to give credit to the puppeteers and creative team. They all deserve it, for delivering so much fun and joy.
Running Time: Approximately 65 minutes, without intermission.
Sesame Street: The Musical plays through Sunday, November 27, 2022, at Rockefeller Productions, performing at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $35.50-125.50), go online. Everyone must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination and a photo ID to enter the building.