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Tune Thursday: “Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas” returns to the Goodspeed Opera House

Tune Thursday: “Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas” returns to the Goodspeed Opera House

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Every family has Christmas Eve traditions. For the Hills … Well, first we eat itty-bitty pizzas. Then the family gathers in the living room, where – going from oldest to youngest – we each hang up our stocking before taking a single candy cane off of the Christmas tree.

Whereas for the Gattelli family, the holidays just weren’t complete until someone threw “Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas” into the VCR. Whereupon everyone had a good cry while watching this 1977 HBO special.

Emmet Otter's Jug Band
Copyright 2006 The Jim Henson Company

“This really was a holiday tradition at my house,” insisted Christopher Gattelli, the Tony Award-nominated director / choreographer (Who’s probably best known to theater fans for his acclaimed work on the recent Broadway revivals of “South Pacific” and “Sunday in the Park with George”) . “I just remember bawling to ‘Emmet Otter.’ It was such a beautifully –told tale with great songs and strong character. I remember thinking as a kid that I’d love to do a holiday show like this someday.”

Now jump ahead three decades or so. And after Christopher has staged a show from the 2005 Fringe Festival that garnered a lot of attention (i.e. “Silence! The Musical.” Which was the unauthorized parody of the Academy Award-winning film, “The Silence of the Lambs ”), Timothy A. McDonald – the CEO of iTheatrics – asked for a meeting. And over lunch, McDonald asked Gattelli if there was some dream project that he really wanted to do.

Timothy McDonald, Paul Williams and Christopher Gattelli at an early rehearsal for the stage version of Jim Henson's "Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas - A New Musical"
(L to R) Timothy A. McDonald, Paul Williams and Christopher Gattelli at an early
rehearsal for the stage version of Jim Henson’s “Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band
Christmas– A New Musical.” Photo by Diane Sobolewski.
Copyright 2009 Goodspeed Musicals. All Rights Reserved

“And I said ‘There’s this Jim Henson special from the 1970s,’ “ Christopher remembered. “ ‘You probably haven’t heard of it. It’s a musical retelling of O. Henry’s ‘Gift of the Magi.’ Only set in a swamp with puppets.”

As it turns out, McDonald had heard of “Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas.” Timothy had recently been working with Paul Williams, who had written the score for this HBO special back in 1977. And Williams had actually been hectoring McDonald, insisting that iTheatrics take a close look at “Emmet Otter.” Because (the way Paul saw it) this Jim Henson production had the makings of a great stage musical.

Emmet Otter and his pals for a Jug-Band
Emmet Otter and his pals form a Jug-Band in Goodspeed Musicals production of
Jim Henson's “Emmet Otter” at the Goodspeed Opera House. (L to R) Matt Furtado,
Stanley Bahorek, Justin Bohan and Scott Barnhardt. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.
Copyright 2009 Goodspeed Musicals. All Rights Reserved

“So with Paul pushing from one side and me pushing from the other, Tim decided to reach out to The Jim Henson Company and see if they’d be interested in selling iTheatrics the theatrical rights to ‘Emmet Otter,’ “ Christopher continued. “But Henson wasn’t interested in selling the rights. They wanted to be full-on collaborators with this new stage project.”

Mind you, it took a few years to work out all the kinks (i.e. have Williams write enough new songs so that this holiday special could then become a full-blown stage musical. Not to mention Gattelli & McDonald’s effort to turn Jerry Juhl’s teleplay into a suitable libretto). Then there was the issue of where exactly to stage the world premiere of the musical version of “Emmet Otter.”

The exterior of the Goodspeed Musicals
Copyright 2009 Goodspeed Musicals. All Rights Reserved

“But once the Goodspeed Opera House expressed interest in the show … Well, you couldn’t ask for a better place to stage ‘Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas,’ “ Christopher explained. “The theater itself backs up against a marsh. And – as you walk up to the Opera House itself – you have to pass over this footbridge past all of these real animals off in the brush. So it’s like you’re actually entering the world of Frogtown Hollow before ‘Emmet Otter’ even begins.”

Now for its first year in production at the Goodspeed, Jim Henson's “Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas - A  New Musical” was admittedly a little rushed. Since the show itself didn’t get greenlit ‘til July of 2008 … More importantly, because performances were supposed to begin at the Opera House on December 7th of that same year … Well, the latter half of 2008 was something of a blur for Gattelli.

Puppets and human performers blend seemlessly in "Emmet Otter"
Puppets and human performers blend seamlessly in Goodspeed Musicals production
of Jim Henson's “Emmet Otter” at the Goodspeed Opera House. Photo by Diane
Sobolewski. Copyright 2008 Goodspeed Musicals. All Rights Reserved

“We still had lots of support from The Jim Henson Company,” Christopher said. “They put a whole lot of trust in the ‘Emmet Otter’ creative team. They even let us use some of the puppets from the original 1977 HBO special as part of this stage show.“

The end result … Well, it must have been a success. Given that there was such a strong demand for “Emmet Otter” tickets that the Goodspeed Opera House had to tack two additional performances onto last year’s run.

Meg Guzulescu of West Hartford, Ct. learns about trust from her squirrel friends in "Emmet Otter"
Meg Guzulescu of West Hartford, CT learns about trust from her squirrel friends
in Goodspeed Musicals production of Jim Henson's “Emmet Otter”
at the Goodspeed Opera House. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.
Copyright 2009 Goodspeed Musicals. All Rights Reserved

“One of the more gratifying things about last year’s production of ‘Emmet Otter’ was that Goodspeed had this guestbook in the lobby,” Gattelli went on. “Which is how we discovered that people had come from as far away as St. Louis and Ohio just to see this show. We really must have struck a chord with fans of the original HBO special.”

Emmet Otter and his Ma learn that family and friends are what make holidays special Jim Henson's "Emmet Otter"
Emmet Otter (Justin Bohan) and his Ma (Kathy Fitzgerald) learn that family and
friends are what make holidays & everyday special in Goodspeed Musicals
production of Jim Henson's “Emmet Otter” at the Goodspeed Opera House
in East Haddam, CT through January 4, 2010. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.
Copyright 2009 Goodspeed Musicals. All Rights Reserved

So if you – like Christopher – have extremely fond memories of HBO’s “Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas,” you should be aware that the stage version of “Emmet Otter” has just begun a second run at the Goodspeed. Performances just got underway this past Monday and will continue through January 4th.

“We’ve made some minor tweaks to the book, “ Galletti admitted. “But overall, this is the same musical that delighted Henson fans last year. A show that – we’re hoping – will eventually become a holiday perennial.”

Seasons Greetings from Goodspeed Musicals
Copyright 2009 Goodspeed Musicals. All Rights Reserved

If you’d like to start a new tradition for your family by spending some of your Christmas in Connecticut and seeing a great new holiday musical at the Goodspeed Opera House … You can do so by clicking on this link and seeing what performances are available for Jim Henson's “Emmet Otter’s Jud-Band Christmas.”

Just so you know, though: If last year is any indication, tickets are sure to go fast. So if you’d like to spend some of the Christmas season in Frogtown Hollow, you’d best hop to it.

The cast of Emmet Otter in Frogtown Hollow
Photo by Diane Sobolewski. Copyright 2008 Goodspeed Musicals. All Rights Reserved

Your thoughts?

 

And speaking of the holidays … If you’re planning on doing any Christmas shopping on Amazon.com this year, could you please do JHM a favor and – before you begin your online bargain hunting – click on the banner above?

If you do that … Well, Jim Hill Media then gets a teeny tiny chunk of whatever you spend. Which would be a very nice way to show your appreciation for all of the great stories that you’ve read on this website over the past year.

Happy Holidays!

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