'Sesame Street: The Musical' review — a fun-loving testament to the power of theatre
It seems inevitable that Sesame Street would eventually hit the New York stage — the beloved children's show is already musical, and the theme song is as iconic as any classic Broadway overture. This season, it's finally here, right on the heels of the critically acclaimed Winnie the Pooh, Rockefeller Productions' last family-friendly show at Theatre Row. The company has once again outdone itself with Sesame Street: The Musical, a clever and utterly joyous show that's truly for all ages.
The stage show is structured like a Sesame Street TV episode: as an hourlong series of educational segments, musical and otherwise, with a particular variety-show flair. Standard lessons about letters, numbers, and accepting each other's differences remain, but this musical's main theme is the importance of self-confidence and imagination, and the power of theatre to nurture those values. What a perfect way to honor the live medium and stay true to the Sesame Street spirit.
Throughout the show, the Sesame Street gang teaches Stephen, a lost audience member who inadvertently stumbles into the cast, how to sing, dance, and act in preparation for a grand-finale number. (These lessons happen "backstage" as the other acts go on — it's very meta.) Of course, the Muppets have been at this performing thing for more than 50 years, so they naturally deliver stellar performances across the board.
Among the highlights are Rosita, channeling Maria von Trapp with her ditty "Sing After Me," and Count von Count, whose counting skills make him a perfect dance instructor. Separately, Cookie Monster gets a few showcases as the "Crooner of the Cookie Jar," and Elmo makes his one big number count with a high-octane dance break. (Besides some classic Sesame Street tunes, the infectiously catchy songs are by Tom Kitt, Helen Park, and Nate Edmondson.)
The joy of Sesame Street: The Musical comes from its insistence that the arts are as fun and easy — and important — to learn as A-B-C or 1-2-3. The sight of the youngsters in the audience (okay, not just the youngsters) cheer and clap with abandon at seeing their favorite characters on stage is utterly heartwarming, and it seems likely that some might beg their parents for dance or voice lessons after watching Elmo and co. perform. Just as the TV show has inspired multiple generations' love of learning, Sesame Street: The Musical is perfectly poised to inspire a new generation's love of theatre.
That said, Sesame Street: The Musical embraces theatre, warts and all — there are a few wry jabs at showbiz for the adults to chuckle at. Grover once answers the question "Are you an actor?" with "Yes, it's true, I am a professional waiter." And in Sesame Street's most clever and showstopping number, Oscar the Grouch is satirically conceived as a New "Yuck" Times journalist who loves nothing more than writing negative reviews, taking not-so-subtle aim at us real-life critics.
Oscar might not want to hear this, but luckily, Sesame Street: The Musical offers nothing negative to write about. You don't have to be a kid to be a theatre kid, and Sesame Street: The Musical will delight every theatre kid at heart.
Photo credit: Elmo, Cookie Monster, Abby Cadabby, and Grover in Sesame Street: The Musical. (Photo courtesy of production)
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