Friday, January 02, 2009

Emmet Otter's Jug-band Christmas

photo: Diane Sobolewski

Jim Henson Productions and Goodspeed Musicals have joined up to stage Henson's much-loved 1977 tv musical, and the charming result ought to be a perennial hit. Essentially a woodland creatured revision of The Gift of The Magi in which puppets and actors co-mingle as animal characters, the musical is agreeably low-key rather than brash and enjoyably cute rather than precious. Although Paul Williams' score is only serviceable, and the show's pace at times a tad sluggish, the production aces one of theatre's toughest tests and holds tykes in rapt attention thanks not only to Henson's delightful, by now familiar puppets but also to the expert cast whose performances have been well-scaled to the material. Most obviously terrific are Cass Morgan as Ma Otter and Daniel Reichard as her son Emmet, both highly accomplished music theatre performers who bring warmth and a gentle touch to their characterizations. But there's also plenty of skill on display elsewhere from performers in supporting roles, from the unseen puppeteers who play a pack of red squirrels in a running bit that gets the show's biggest laughs, to Alan Campbell and Kate Wetherhead, who bring just the right tone and amount of personality as a father and daughter whose Christmas Eve heart-to-heart is the stage musical's added framing device. Even the three minor characters who fill out Emmet's band are given amusing, memorable characterizations from Robb Sapp, Daniel Torres, and the always hilarious Jeff Hiller.

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