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Entire Muppet clan reunites for "Jim Henson's Musical World" concerts at Carnegie Hall

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Entire Muppet clan reunites for "Jim Henson's Musical World" concerts at Carnegie Hall

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There are those who talk about the big planetary alignment that's supposed to occur at the end of 2012 and what that then means for the fate of mankind.

But me? I'd prefer to talk about the planetary alignment that just happened this past weekend at Carnegie Hall.

Seriously. Someone must have moved heaven and earth prior to Saturday's "Jim Henson's Musical World" concert. Because there onstage right alongside the New York Pops were ALL of the Muppets.

To explain: Ever since December 2000 (which is when EM.TV -- the German media consortium that, at that time, owned The Jim Henson Company -- sold the Sesame Street Muppet characters off to Sesame Workshop), the Muppets have been a very fractured family. With the Walt Disney Company acquiring the classic Muppet characters (i.e. Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie et al) and the "Bear in the Big Blue House" characters in February of 2004, while the characters created for "Fraggle Rock," "Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas," "Jim Henson's the Storyteller," "Farscape" as well as the feature films "Labyrinth" and "The Dark Crystal" remained the property of the  Henson Company.

So now that this trio of major media companies had divvied up this once-solid set of characters ... Well, given the layer upon layer of lawyers that were involved now, it seemed highly unlikely that the Muppets were ever going to have anything approaching a family reunion.

So how exactly did Saturday's two (one at 12:30 and a second performance at 3:30 p.m.) concerts happen? Well, legendary comedian Lenny Bruce wondered just the same thing as his famous midnight performance at Carnegie Hall Concert was getting underway back in February of 1961. As he remarked to the 3000 people who came out that night (in a blizzard, no less) to hear him do stand-up on that venerable venue:

... (given that) this is the 12 o'clock scene, maybe the people who own this place don't even know that we're here.  (Maybe we were all let in secretly after-hours by) a good and corrupt janitor (who said) "Alright. Just don't make no noise and clean up after you're finished, alright?"

But given that there were posters & programs printed up (not to mention tickets sold) for Saturday's concerts, I'm afraid that the "good and corrupt janitor" theory isn't going to work this time around. So whoever it was that managed to distract Disney & Sesame Workshop's attorneys for an entire afternoon, I thank you. Because "Jim Henson's Musical World" was a genuinely magical event.

The concert kicked off with a grainy bit of black-and-white video which showed the very first time that a Muppet had performed at Carnegie Hall. Which was back in November of 1965, when Rowlf the Dog had shared the stage with country singer Jimmy Dean during a taping of ABC's "The Jimmy Dean Show." As the lights came up again in Carnegie Hall, a real-life Rowlf the Dog puppet popped up behind a black curtain at center stage. Rowlf acknowledged the applause of the crowd, then remarked that " ... I always knew that I'd be invited back to Carnegie Hall. I just didn't know that it would take 47 years. Which -- in dog years -- is a very long time."

Rowlf and Jimmy Dean (Dean is the one on the right)

Which pretty much set the tone for the afternoon of entertainment that was to follow. Which was this skillful mixture of nostalgia and silliness.

In fact, I'm betting that Jim Henson himself would have approved of the running gag that veritably galloped through "Jim Henson's Musical World." Which was that the host of the show -- "Avenue Q" star and "ImaginOcean" creator John Tartaglia -- had somehow gotten the date wrong. Which meant that all of the special guests which were supposed to show up and take part in this hour-and-15-minute-long concert weren't actually due to show up at Carnegie Hall 'til next Saturday.

But Tartaglia (who was still in his pajamas when Steven Reineke -- the music director and conductor of the New York Pops -- gave him a call at home on the video phone to let John know that he was overdue for his hosting gig) quickly hustled on down to 57th & 7th Avenue. And mere moments later, Tartaglia -- still wearing his PJs, mind you -- was strolling up the center aisle of this grand old concert hall, singing that Joe Raposo favorite, "Sing (Sing a Song)" from "Sesame Street."

John and Stephanie back during their "Avenue Q" days

From there ... There were "Avenue Q" reunions (John and his Tony Award-nominated cast-mate Stephanie D'Abruzzo performed "Steppin' Out With a Star" from "The Great Muppet Caper" live onstage), Fraggle appearances (In his usual getting-it-wrong style, Uncle Traveling Matt explained to Red & Wembley that Carnegie Cave had actually been built by the Doozers as a summer palace for the Gorgs), surprise celebrity guests  (Tartaglia pulled Paul Williams out the audience and up onstage, so that Paul could then explain how he came to work with Jim and write the music for "Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas" and "The Muppet Movie "), even a short and somewhat bizarre appearance by a "Saturday Night Live" cast member (Rachel Dratch playing Carnegie Hall's stage manager. Which -- given those short-lived & rather bizarre "Land of Gorch" sketches that the Muppets appeared in during "Saturday Night" 's debut season back in 1975 -- only seemed appropriate).

Which was all great fun. But one of the true highlights of Saturday's "Jim Henson's Musical World" concerts arrived when the New York Pops launched into the "Sesame Street" theme song. And who comes walking up the center aisle but Bob McGrath, Loretta Long, Roscoe Orman and other human members of the "Sesame Street" cast. And given the way that the youngsters in the audience reacted when Elmo suddenly popped up onstage, you'd have thought that Elvis had entered the building.

The baby boomers in Carnegie Hall had a similar sort of reaction when Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy and the rest of the gang sang Muppet favorites like "Just One Person," "Movin' Right Along," "Bein' Green" and "The Rainbow Connection."

Then when you factor in Essential Voices (i.e. the human choir that backed up both the human performers as well as the puppeteers during various numbers at Saturday's performances) as well as Muppet pioneer Jerry Nelson's off-stage announcements, these concerts truly were "a musical tribute to Jim Henson's great legacy through song and puppetry."

The only downside to this wondrous event was -- due to the fact that three different major media companies now own the various Muppet characters -- there was just no way in hell that The Walt Disney Company, Sesame Workshop and The Jim Henson Company were ever going to allow "Jim Henson's Musical World" to be recorded. (In fact, that was one of the only annoying aspects of Saturday's event. The ushers at Carnegie Hall who were constantly rushing around, telling people to turn off their cameras and/or put away their iPhones. Because recordings of any kind at these concerts just were not allowed.)

So if you're a Muppet fan and you weren't in New York City this past Saturday afternoon, you really missed out. Because who knows when -- if ever -- the planets are going to align like that again. And all of the Muppet characters are going to be allowed to be in the same place at the same time to celebrate Jim Henson's creative legacy.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So here's hoping that -- just like when "The Sweatbox" popped up on YouTube late last year, finally allowing animation fans everywhere to see this long-locked-in-the-Disney-vault documentary about the making of "The Emperor's New Groove" -- someday an obviously highly-illegal bootleg recording of "Jim Henson's Musical World" will turn up on the Web.

So maybe  -- just like Lenny Bruce said back in 1961 -- some "good and corrupt janitor" allowed someone with a camera or a recorder to sneak into Carnegie Hall on Saturday. Because these "Jim Henson's Musical World" concerts really do deserve to be seen and/or heard by a far wider audience than the 5000 or so folks who experienced this out-of-this-world entertainment this past weekend.

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  • Well, guess there's only one way to solve this: Disney has to buy Sesame Workshop and The Jim Henson Company. This thing sounded great. Should've been a PBS Great Performances special.

  • I rarely post on your site Jim, but I had to in this case.

    Jim Wrote: "So if you're a Muppet fan and you weren't in New York City this past Saturday afternoon, you really missed out."

    I feel, as a long time loyal reader, that I did indeed end up missing out, and I'm not sure if I should blame you personally for not reporting about this prior to the show so that I could have attended (and then writing what you did above which really rubbed it in), or if I should be upset at whoever was marketing this show for not really getting the word out to Disney websites about this.

    I guess I may just need to look elsewhere for more comprehensive Disney news besides JHM and the other handful of sites I frequent.

  • How about frequenting MUPPET fansites (Muppet Central, Tough Pigs, etc.), 'cause they mentioned this months ago.

  • An RSS feed might work as well, too.

  • Jealous!

    I'd buy both cd & dvd.

  • Nanny, nanny, boo-boo!

  • The companies should agree to release the recording, and donate all the profits to charity.  Only letting 5000 people see this gem of an event is just cruel!

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