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September 12, 2017

REPORT: The Muppets Take the Bowl

Filed under: Feature,Reports — Tags: — Joe Hennes @ 8:50 am

For my entire life as a Muppet fanatic, I’ve held one project above all others as the benchmark for all other Muppet productions, and that is The Muppet Show. It’s the perfect combination of everything that makes the Muppets (and their performers) so great, and all I’ve ever wanted was more.

On September 8th, 9th, and 10th, that’s exactly what we got. A new episode of The Muppet Show. And not just a regular episode, but a two-hour one. Live and in-person. And the best part? It was great.

We have so much to say about the show, we’re going to save our in-depth review for later. But I do feel like I have to address the elephant (or, frog) in the room. As Matt Vogel’s first long-form performance as Kermit the Frog, he absolutely hit it out of the park. Kermit was funny, entertaining, with a wonderful singing voice, and perfectly in-character. It was as if The Muppet Show was still putting on weekly shows in some ratty theater 40 years later, and the same old Kermit was still wrangling the strange personalities and oddball acts as he always had without missing a beat. Five minutes into the show, and I forgot that he had a new performer – Kermit was just Kermit.

Also worth mentioning are the celebrity guest stars. Bobby Moynihan, a lifelong Muppet fanatic, stepped up to the plate in every way. He was fearless, provided a unique voice with plenty of hilarious asides and ad-libs, and he meshed so well with all the different types of Muppets. After the show, Moynihan told us that the weight of responsibility was not lost on him – He was hosting The Muppet Show, and he was living his dream as a comedian and actor. Also worth mentioning was Thomas Wilkins, the conductor of the LA Philharmonic, who was featured in several scenes and got a lot of laughs, despite not being an actor. The orchestra was pivotal in the success of the show, providing all of the incidental music as well as mimics of the songs we’re intimately familiar with like The Swedish Chef’s theme music or the Electric Mayhem’s raucous noise.

Okay, enough of prologue – let’s get into the meat of the special. A lot of video has already made its way to the internet, but I’m writing this on a plane leaving LAX, so I have no idea what’s out there and what’s still unrevealed. I’ll gladly take you through the journey of the show, beat-by-beat, sketch-by-sketch.

The show began with Sam the Eagle introducing the orchestra, who played the National Anthem. But not before Sam’s rambling intro exhausted a poor percussionist who held a drumroll for several minutes.

The show continued exactly as it needed to, with the Muppet Show theme song. And let me tell you, there’s nothing like seeing full-bodied monsters (Sweetums, Doglion, and two Mutations) march out on stage in front of you. Statler and Waldorf sang their “Why do we always come here / I guess we’ll never know” line from their (pre-taped) seats in the audience, and Gonzo’s trumpet let out the sound of a car alarm.

Kermit then entered the stage to thunderous applause, only to be reminded by Scooter that this isn’t just a half hour episode of TV, but the Muppets have two whole hours to fill. So they’ll have to streeeeeeeeetch.

Kermit was then interrupted by a white tuxedo-wearing Bobby Moynihan singing “Miss Piggy’s Fantasy” from The Great Muppet Caper (and in a wonderful in-joke, his voice was dubbed), trailed by Miss Piggy herself being carried by male models like an Egyptian queen. Kermit and Bobby then had to convince her to “save the best for last” and hold off on performing until the end of the show.

As the opening number, the Muppets performed a short medley of classic songs, starting with Kermit and Fozzie in a cutout of a Studebaker singing, “Movin’ Right Along”. That segued into “I’ve Been Everywhere”, sung by Rowlf the Dog (which, by the way, is a perfect song for the distinguished Rowlf, and Bill Barretta absolutely killed it). Lastly, Bobby Moynihan and Walter sang “On the Road Again”, accompanied by a quartet of cacti.

Wasting no time, the next sketch was a particularly hilarious “Pigs in Space”, full of sci-fi movie references and music cues. Star Wars, Lost in Space, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and 2001: A Space Odyssey all got a turn, which of course led to a visit from Bobby Moynihan as an alien copyright attorney, threatening to sue on behalf of John Williams. Thankfully, the Swinetrek crew raised their parody shields and set a course for the public domain.

The show was peppered with a few “acts”, performing short versions of songs, just as we’d seen on The Muppet Show. At this point in the show, four wigs sang the title song from Hair, which was delightfully reminiscent of “Ragg Mopp” or “Dance” from The Muppet Show. Unfortunately, they were chased away by Beauregard and his scissors, as Scooter announced that “Hair has been cut”.

Needing more acts to fill more time, Scooter called for “plan B”, which was a strange bit with Bobby Moynihan in a bee costume and Sweetums dressed as a flower. The two chased each other around the stage for a bit in what was probably the only weak sketch in the entire show. Hey, they can’t all be winners.

The show was also broken up by a lot of short videos (for which I’m sure the exhausted puppeteers were thankful). For example, Uncle Deadly teased Miss Piggy’s upcoming solo in a funny clip where the camera slowly moved toward a lounging Piggy until it pressed right up against her snout.

The Great Gonzo entered the stage and warned the audience that his next act may involve lava, canons, or baloney spiders. Bobby entered and shared a nice moment where he told Gonzo that he appreciated how, as a kid, Gonzo helped to make him feel like it was okay to be a weirdo. Reassuringly, Gonzo told him, “It is NOT okay to be a weirdo… it’s AMAZING.”

Shooing Gonzo away, Bobby joined Kermit in center stage for one of the highlights of the evening. Kermit performed “Happy Feet”, full-bodied. When he performed this number on the old Muppet Show, the joke was that we never saw his tap-dancing flippers. But now, we saw everything (and I mean everything – even the puppeteers dressed in all black, which was enlightening). After Kermit danced alone, he invited Bobby to join in, which he did with the help of two giant puppet flippers. This was exactly the sort of thing the Muppets promised when they said we’d be getting to see something new and experimental, and they pulled it off with aplomb.

Turning our attention to the orchestra, conductor Wilkins was called away (a car with the license plate “ICONDUCT” was being towed), so Pepe took his place (with not one, but four batons). He made the orchestra play some bouncy samba music, and when Wilkins returned, the two battled back and forth between Pepe’s samba and Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. In a pure “you got chocolate in my peanut butter” moment, the two merged for a version Ludwig Von never could have predicted.

Sam the Eagle returned to the stage to introduce Wayne and Wanda, who milquetoasted their way through “Send in the Clowns”, only to be terrorized by some Muppet monsters dressed as clowns.

Robin the Frog and his all-frog singing group “Croakapella” sang “Hooray for Hollywood”, but they got nervous and forgot the lyrics, so they repeated the first line over and over again.

Next, more videos! In a spoof of Netflix, a lot of Muppet parody TV shows flew by the screen very quickly, including “House of Lard”, “Making a Mayhem”, “Weirder Stuff”, “Better Not Call Sam”, “Mr. 80s Robot”, and “Last Meep Tonight”. Three full sketches were seen – first, a Veterinarian’s Hospital, in which Dr. Bob and Nurses Piggy and Janice operate on a dying Danny Trejo. We also saw Pepe and Chloe the Clam in “Keeping Up with the Crustaceans”, which the audience loved, but I admit I didn’t get any of the jokes, not having ever seeing an episode of the show it was spoofing (and y’know, I’m okay with that). Finally, the Swedish Chef starred in “The Walking Bread”, as he hunted moldy zombie baked goods, attacking them with a rolling pin wrapped in barbed wire, and then made toast with them with a flamethrower.

Reprising a portion of their act from last year’s Outside Lands show, the Electric Mayhem performed a few songs in another highlight of the night. For the next few minutes, we were all present for an honest-to-Frog Electric Mayhem concert, and it was stellar. They performed “Can You Picture That”, “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and then Janice brought the house down with David Bowie’s “Suffragette City”.

And then: Intermission! Please feel free to take this time in the article to use the restroom or get a snack. Or both! It’s your life.

Act 2 began in the most epic way possible. Just imagine the lights coming up, and you see Gonzo flanked by chickens singing “Is this the real life / Is this just fantasy?” The Muppets reenacted their YouTube hit “Bohemian Rhapsody”, along with a full choir. Epic doesn’t even begin to describe it.

The press release for the show promised obscure characters, and so Scooter organized a parade of them. They were Nigel the Conductor, the Thingy Thing, the Zucchini Brothers, Old Tom, Beautiful Day Monster, Pops, and Chip. It’s always nice to see those guys again, even if they’re just running past the camera.

Next, another short act – “The Boo Danube”. Three ghosts and three skulls (bathed in blue light) singing “The Blue Danube” with “boos” as the notes. It was simple and short and oh so very Muppets.

Bunsen and Beaker then took the stage for a Muppet Labs sketch. With the pull of a lever, Bunsen uploaded Beaker to the cloud. Of course, Beaker found himself electrocuted, pummeled, attacked by monsters, and dropped from the ceiling through the process.

No Muppet Show would be complete without a Fozzie Bear comedy routine. Fozzie decided to break the record for the most jokes told in two minutes. As an SNL and UCB alum, Bobby Moynihan kept time (on a stopwatch he claimed to have built himself – he’s very smart), and as he started the countdown, Fozzie immediately got lost backstage. He ran down hallways, accidentally barged in on dressing rooms, got distracted by rolls of bubble wrap, and somehow found himself on the set of Jimmy Kimmel Live. By the time he made it back to the stage, he only had time for one joke.

To help ease the pain of failure, Bobby offered to perform a comedy routine with Fozzie, and the duo reenacted the Muppet classic, “Good Grief the Comedian’s a Bear”, which was amazing. Bobby made a great Kermit/straight man.

Next it was time for The Swedish Chef (and his entire kitchen) to take the stage. Joined by Bobby Moynihan, they whipped up a batch of salsa. Due to a misunderstanding (which probably happens a lot with the guy who speaks a fake language), the Chef added far too many chili peppers, and Bobby emitted smoke from places he’d probably rather we not mention.

Sam the Eagle once again introduced Wayne and Wanda, and maybe this time nothing will go wrong! They sang “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”, which led to them being eaten by a shark. Eh, they had it coming.

In another of my favorite moments, Gonzo performed a magic act. His intro video was delightfully bizarre (and I really hope it’s used again and again), and he appeared on stage dressed in a Doctor Strange-esque outfit, “levitating”. Once again, we could see the puppeteers, but the bright blue weirdo was so compelling, nobody saw them after the first few seconds. Gonzo chose Kermit as his volunteer, levitating our hero frog next to him. “Don’t try this at home,” warned Gonzo, “Or do… you have free will.” With a few magic words and some curtains, Gonzo successfully switched his head with Kermit’s! Hopefully they found a way to switch back.

Next, Mahna Mahna and the Snowths performed (what else?) “Mahna Mahna” on stage. During the part where Mahna Mahna usually runs off stage, he ran from the theater (on video, of course), and we saw him jump on a tour bus through Los Angeles. (Another great Easter egg: His seat mate was none other than Matt Vogel.) They visited Grauman’s Chinese Theater, the El Capitan, the Cinema, and Pink’s Hot Dogs before Mahna Mahna borrowed Vogel’s phone to call Thomas Wilkins for the final note.

Uncle Deadly appeared on stage to finally introduce Miss Piggy for her big number. Visible from head to toe, Piggy began singing Adele’s “Hello”, which soon transformed from the version we’re familiar with into a “big band” cover. Suddenly, the stage was filled with dancers, who led Piggy through an elaborately choreographed routine (which she had not rehearsed for) that led her to being tossed around the stage, thrown in the air, kicked, shaken, and otherwise embarrassed. The synergy between all the performers was insanely impressive, and the puppeteers (still dressed in black, but without the benefit of a black backdrop) were fully visible and yet invisible at the same time. This may have been one of the most impressive things the Muppets have done in years.

Scooter and Bobo shared a short, strange scene. Scooter attempted to fill time with a beatboxing performance, but Bobo kept interrupting with questions about where his keys are and why his pajamas are fading. These two made a fantastic comedy duo, and I hope they get more opportunities to pair up.

Leading up to the ending (I know… too soon!), Kermit was revealed sitting on a log holding his banjo, and we all know what that means. He sang “Rainbow Connection”, and then surprised the audience by being joined by Paul Williams himself. The rest of the Muppet cast and Bobby Moynihan joined in for the song, and then followed it up with another Muppet Movie classic, “The Magic Store”.

And then, the moment so many of us were waiting for (especially Crazy Harry): Fireworks! The orchestra performed a medley of Muppet songs, and the fireworks were perfectly synchronized to the music. Because I know you were wondering (and because I wrote them down and I don’t know what else to do with this list), the songs in the medley included “Hey a Movie”, “Happiness Hotel”, “Sailing for Adventure”, “We’re Doing a Sequel”, “Life’s a Happy Song”, “I Hope that Something Better Comes Along”, and “Together Again”. Honestly, I’d go to see the orchestra just play a concert of Muppet songs. It was terrific.

The show ended with Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem (as well as however many Muppets as they could fit on the stage) performing the Joe Cocker version of “With a Little Help from My Friends”. Despite not being a Muppet song (yes, I know that the Mayhem performed the Beatles’ version on The Muppet Show), it was a wonderful way to end the show.

To top everything off, Bobby Moynihan gave the core Muppet performers a chance to stand in the spotlight, as he called out their names for them to take some well-deserved bows. Between this and the visible puppeteers, we’re so very grateful that Disney seems to have reversed their decision to keep the inner workings of the Muppets a secret. Those guys are rock stars, and they deserve to be treated as such.

The Muppets Take the Bowl was one of the best Muppet productions I’ve ever seen. It was a success on every level, and I hope Disney saw it the same way, and we will get more shows like this, more locations, and just more.

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by Joe Hennes – Joe@ToughPigs.com



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