We here at ToughPigs have been fans of the Jim Henson Company’s Puppet Up! for nearly ten years, ever since it premiered as Stuffed & Unstrung. So when we heard that there’d be a special one-night-only show in Los Angeles, we jumped at the chance to see it again. And when we found out it was on the Jim Henson Company’s lot – that beautiful space of old Hollywood built by Charlie Chaplin – we jumped even harder. It was a rare treat for the gates of this lot to be opened and for the public to be welcomed inside, and we’re grateful to have been in the same soundstage where Chaplin filmed such movies as The Gold Rush, City Lights, and Modern Times to watch our favorite inventive improv show starring puppets.
Even though many of us have seen the show before, the improvisation of these skilled puppeteers ensures that it’s never the same show twice. But since I’ve personally seen it a number of times, we wanted to give a fresh eye on this show. So here’s a review from ToughPigs’s own Rachel Deering. Thanks, Rachel!
To set the scene, my boyfriend and I had both been to the Jim Henson lot before, but not to Puppet Up!, and never inside the main sound stage. The drive over was spent speculating what the show was going to be composed of, and what the Charlie Chaplin Sound Stage looked like. We arrived, parked, toured the lot for a few minutes, and promptly lined up to be the first ones inside for the 9 p.m. show.
We honestly couldn’t have predicted what was to come. The venue was done up beautifully, with a large stage a few feet above the masses of tables and chairs organized in long rows across the room. There were two large screen flanking the stage, a cabinet filled to the brim with all manner of beautiful puppets, and a corner where the musical director was set up. I was literally jumping up and down with excitement. We were seated in the front off to the right side, a perfect view of both the performers and the screen behind them. And then the show began.
I am glad I went into the show with no expectations, because I was absolutely blown away. The host, Patrick Bristow, was witty and crude, the performers – including Drew Massey, Victor Yerrid, Peggy Etra, Allan Trautman, Ted Michaels, and Colleen Smith – were talented and hilarious, and being able to see Brian Henson puppeteer live was unbelievable. Two of my own suggestions were used in the show to hysterical effect. The audience participation segments were wonderful, especially the couple who met as Match.com beta testers over twenty years ago. I was impressed with how they incorporated new(ish) technology into the show, like green screens, repeaters, and the Henson digital puppetry rig. Seeing them blend traditional puppetry with new techniques in a live show was a unique experience, one that I hope to have again and again.
The raunchiness of the show was fun and all, but my favorite part had to have been the two recreation segments. In the first half of the show, the puppeteers recreated the classic “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Your Face” segment from Sam and Friends, sans Kermit and Yorick. The second half saw a perfect recreation of “Java”, one of my all-time favorite Muppet sketches. Although these sketches were tame and familiar, the audience reacted just as strongly, laughing and cheering the whole way through. Old fans and new were amazed and delighted by the classic skits, recreated with perfect wit and timing.
All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better show. Everything was beautiful and hilarious and entertaining, and it was genuinely enjoyable both for myself, a die-hard Henson fan who had to keep herself from spewing trivia every few minutes, and my boyfriend, an admirer of Muppets, but not to the same degree. The best part was probably the sense of hope that I left with. This show was so unique, clever, and downright fun that it’s hard to imagine it going away anytime soon. You could tell that the performers loved sharing their craft and their home with the crowd, and even Brian Henson himself said that they were hoping to put on this event on a few times a year. I can only hope they follow through, because I can’t wait to see this show again!
Our thanks to the cast and crew of Puppet Up!, the Jim Henson Company, and everyone who made this a night to remember!
Click here to grow accustomed to our face on the ToughPigs forum!
by Rachel Deering