At “Sesame Street the Musical,” an hour-long show in which nine puppeteers portray 11 familiar Sesame Street characters who each get a familiar Sesame Street song to sing, there was one musical number in particular that seemed most to delight the theatergoer sitting next to me.
It was the one where Ernie was in the bathtub and sang to his rubber duckie, “You’re the One, Rubber Duckie,” a jaunty vaudeville number, and while he sang suddenly little soap bubbles cascaded from the ceiling in great clusters onto our heads. My seatmate was really entranced by those bubbles.
He was one year old, and sitting on his father’s lap.
In the FAQ on the website of “Sesame Street The Musical” we’re told “the show is suitable for ages 3+, but has something for fans of all ages.” Those ages at the performance I attended happened to include several under-threes, among them a two-year-old in front of me and a six-month-old infant three rows up, alongside his two-year-old sister. It was obvious that my new pal and his cohorts were far more the target audience of this show than I am.
Yet, I agreed with him: Those bubbles were the best. And, upon reflection, there was a message here. There should have been more ways to distinguish between the live stage show and the much-beloved TV series now in its 52nd season. Perhaps some singalongs?
Instead, besides those bubbles, the producer’s idea of interactivity was offering Sesame Street posters and dolls (not puppets!) for sale in the lobby, and a chance to take photographs after the show.
If “Sesame Street the Musical” is not the theatrical experience it could have been, it seems clear that Jonathan Rockefeller, who wrote, directed, and produced this show along with Sesame Workshop, understands that it will be for many attendees the first live theater of their lives.
Perhaps he’s preparing them for a future of theatergoing – or maybe just trying to lure in their already-theatergoing parents. That may be why there are so many references to theater in the show.
The plot, for one. All the characters are putting on a musical. There is a “special guest” (supposedly different each performance: at mine, it was Stephen Fala), who was just planning to be in the audience, but is roped into making his theatrical debut. For the rest of the show, the Muppets help train him for the finale.
The few moments in the show that are aimed at the adults all involve theater in some way.
On the set (and for sale in the lobby) are some familiar Broadway show posters with a Sesame Street (or just a silly) slant: “The Fraction of the Opera,” “Five the Musical” (instead of “Six”) “Waiter” (instead of “Waitress,’ featuring Grover) “Once Upon a Monster,” “Lament” (instead of “Rent.”)
And then Oscar the Grouch is “a critic-at-large for the ‘New Yuck Times.’”
There are also two new (theater-related) songs written for the show, by two Broadway composers. Tom Kitt (Pulitzer and Tony winning composer of “Next to Normal’) has written the song ‘Imagination,’ about how much fun it can be to dress up in costumes. Helen Park (“KPOP” wrote ‘You Can Be A Star,”a 11 o’clock number for the ensemble:
You’ve all got talent
You just need a start
Trust in yourself
And follow your heart
The songs from the TV series are divvied out more or less equally among the characters. Besides Ernie’s rubber duckie number:
Honkers as the conductor launches (the recording of) an orchestral version of “Sunny Day,” the Sesame Street theme song.
Cookie Monster was going to teach the ABC’s but the letters are made out of cookies, so he eats the first two, and sings only about C. “C is for Cookie”
Elmo’s Got The Moves (straight-up hip hop)
Rosita sings “Sing What I Sing”
Oscar the Grouch: “I Love Trash”
Count Von Count: Batty Bat (in which he melodically counts to three)
Grover: Fuzzy and Blue
Gabrielle: Belly Breathe
Abby Gadabby: Believe in Yourself
Theatergoers should know in advance (to avoid possible disappointment) that there is no Kermit the Frog, or Big Bird, or Miss Piggy. I was happy with some of the clever puppet cameos: a stage manager who’s a sheep (stage managers are the opposite of sheep in real life), the Orange and Blue Martians, several hip pairs of tap-dancing shoes, cute dancing cookies , a dancing trophy, umbrella, and trombone puppet. But I overheard parents grousing about the absence in particular of Big Bird. (They also complained about the ten dollar “lap seat fee” for children 12 months and younger, and about how a program was only available if you paid for it.)
Right before Bert and Ernie’s charming duet, in which they sing about how they like different things (Bert bottle caps and paper clips, Ernie playing jokes and bubble gum), but they still like one another, the two-year-old in front of me stopped paying attention. She turned her back to them, and started playing with the one-year-old next to me, who seemed as entranced with her as he had been with the bubbles. It was one of the rare instances in which our critical assessments of what was on stage diverged.
Sesame Street The Musical
Theatre Row through November 27, 2022
Running time: About 60-70 minutes, with no intermission
Tickets: $36 to $136
Written, directed, and produced by Jonathan Rockefeller, along with Sesame Workshop.
Composer, sound designer and musical director Nate Edmondson
Puppetteers: Mecca Akbar, Mia Castillo, Chris Coleman, Yanniv Frank, Joe Newman-Getzler, Joshua Peters, Rebecca Russell, Dustin Scully, and Matteo Villanueva.