On Monday, July 11, Feinstein’s/54 Below hosted an evening that can easily be described as one word: “Muppetational!” Often referred to as “Broadway’s living room”, the club was filled with Muppet fans young and old as a tribute was held for the music and mayhem of Jim Henson and the Muppets.
Some Muppet fans even came from out of the country just to get a glimpse of the Muppet fan community and hear their favorite tunes sung by the best of Broadway. Stars from stage and screen joined together to sing Muppet favorites, everything from movies to television to even a few surprising choices.
Griffin Newman (HBO’s Vinyl, Amazon’s The Tick) hosted the tribute show, wearing his best Kermit the Frog-themed green t-shirt and hat as well as Scooter-styled glasses. Newman kept the show on track, serving as both the Kermit-like emcee and the Scooter-ish stage manager, introducing the various performers and keeping things at a quick, but well-organized pace. The tribute show was produced and directed by Philip Romano.
The show started appropriately with the house band performing their own rendition of “The Muppet Show Theme” and the night even included two hecklers in the audience “balcony”, performed by comedians Dru Johnston and Noah Forman, offering familiar quips and comments to the night’s performances and comedy routines in a way only Statler and Waldorf could. The evening included a mix of songs, comedy bits and stories that highlighted Muppet memories from the movies, television shows and more. Rick Lyon (Avenue Q, Sesame Street) absolutely stole the show when he walked on-stage, duffle bag in hand and discussed his history with the Jim Henson Company and his special connection to Jim Henson, having worked for him as a puppeteer and puppet builder. He noted how he built his own impressive puppet replica of one of Jim’s characters in tribute to his mentor and then proceeded to open up his duffle bag and pull out a Kermit the Frog puppet. He made sure to clarify it was not a Muppet, but his own puppet replica of the character. Lyon, using his own take on the Kermit the Frog voice, then went on to sing “Bein’ Green.” In that moment, the entire room, no matter what age, became children again as everyone gazed upon their favorite amphibian singing his signature song.
Rick Lyon wasn’t the only Muppet alum in the show, as Stephanie D’Abruzzo (Tony Award nominee for Avenue Q, Sesame Street) and Jennifer Barnhart (Avenue Q, Sesame Street) also took the stage to perform, each also discussing their love for the Muppets and Jim Henson, as well as honoring their fellow Muppeteers. Barnhart performed, on ukuele, her own tribute to Jerry Nelson, whose 82nd birthday would have been the day before, by singing “When the River Meets the Sea” from Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas. D’Abruzzo performed two beautiful songs from Sesame Street: “Imagination” and “Little Things.”
Among the highlights of the evening: Tony Award winner James Monroe Iglehart (Aladdin) performed two songs from The Muppet Movie: “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday” and “I Hope That Something Better Comes Along”, the latter alongside his Aladdin co-star Brian Gonzales.
Olivier Award winner Lesli Margherita (Dames At Sea, Matilda the Musical) channeled her inspiration by performing Miss Piggy’s “The Christmas Queen”, a track on the Muppets holiday album A Green and Red Christmas. Her performance included the Miss Piggy-like diva behavior and determination to be the center of attention. The Skivvies (Nick Cearley & Lauren Molina), a musical duo who perform literally stripped down to their underwear, sang another song from The Muppet Movie as they performed “Movin’ Right Along”, with Cearley wearing a Kermit the Frog collar and Molina arranging her hair to resemble Fozzie Bear ears. Their performance included a “fork in the road” as a large fork was raised from the audience, and a hitchhiker looking for her way to 54 Below.
Mara Wilson, best known for her work as a child in the films Matilda and Mrs. Doubtfire, was joined on-stage by her friend Craig Fogel in a very special performance of the Sesame Street favorite “I Don’t Want to Live On the Moon.” Prior to singing, Wilson discussed the children’s show’s impact on reaching inner-city kids to look at Sesame Street like it was home to them. She also talked about how the show taught kids about different languages and cultures, including Spanish and even sign-language. As she sang, Fogel used sign language to add a special touch to the already beautiful song. Max Crumm (Grease, Disaster!) performed a newer Muppet song as he sang “I’ll Get You What You Want.” Comedians Joe Rumrill and Tim Platt featured a fun comedy routine in which Platt acted as a repairman who stayed by to watch the show, despite the fact he has never heard of the Muppets. In an ironic twist, Platt brought out his son, a puppet he held over his head who had also never heard of the Muppets, although he did have a chiropractor named Dave Goelz.
Grace McLean (Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812), George Salazar (Godspell), Julia Mattison (Godspell), Molly Pope (Molly Pope Likes Your Status), Laura Shoop (She Loves Me) and Emily Padgett (Bright Star) also performed Muppet favorites, everything ranging from “I’m Gonna Always Love You” to “Man or Muppet” to “Don’t Blame the Dynamite.” The evening concluded with Rick Lyon returning to the stage with his Kermit, now with a banjo around his shoulder, as Kermit mentioned that the final number was written inspired by Jim Henson’s favorite movie The Wizard of Oz. The two then proceeded to sing “Rainbow Connection” and were quickly joined onstage by James Monroe Iglehart, Max Crumm, Stephanie D’Abruzzo, The Skivvies and Jennifer Barnhart. Of course, a Muppet tribute wouldn’t be complete without a performance of “Mahna Mahna” which the house band sang as the show came to a close.
The night was truly a celebration of the Muppets and Jim Henson, with people of all different ages and backgrounds coming together to laugh, sing and reminisce about their love and appreciation for the Muppets. The event was sold out and so popular that 54 Below has extended its run by adding another show on Sunday, August 28 at 9:30pm. If you’re in the NYC area, don’t miss this opportunity to meet other fans just like you and celebrate the magic, music and mayhem of Jim Henson and the Muppets. It was most definitely a sensational, inspirational, celebrational, Muppetational evening!
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