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The Muppets Bring Humor and Heart to the Hollywood Bowl in "The Muppets Take the Bowl": Review


The Muppets are in a bit of weird situation. Six years ago they made their big comeback with a smash hit movie, but since then they have had another flop movie and a short-lived television show. The franchise is still figuring out what iteration of itself works best for a 21st-century audience, and if it's not movies and it's not TV, what is it? It seems like they are trying to answer that question by putting on a rare live performance, happening September 8-10th at the Hollywood Bowl.

Like the good Muppet fan I am, I was on hand opening night in eager anticipation of finding out what a live Muppet show looks like. It looked like, well, what you might expect it to look like. Puppeteers dressed in all black performing their characters right before our very eyes. That is when there wasn't a platform or podium they could hide behind, which there occasionally was during the course of the two-and-a-half hour show. While it certainly isn't how we are used to experiencing the Muppets, whose films and TV shows have painstakingly gone out of their way to conceal the performer, it was cool getting to see the characters performed like never before.

This was Matt Vogel's first real test as Kermit the Frog since taking over from Steve Whitmire. His version was first introduced in a YouTube video last week, but here Kermit has a heck of lot more to do than he did in the two-minute video. I was nervous about how the audience would react to him, but there wasn't any need to be. He nailed it. Taking on such an iconic role is no small task and Vogel handled it incredibly well, especially considering it was live. There were moments where he sounded uncannily like Jim Henson. But then again, there were moments where he sounded like Constantine to me. For those wondering about Steve Whitmire's other characters; Beaker was performed by David Rudman, Statler by Peter Linz, and Rizzo was nowhere to be found.

The other Muppet performers were all excellent as well. Eric Jacobson as Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, and Animal, Bill Barretta as Pepé and Bobo, and Peter Linz as Walter and Robin all did not disappoint. And of course, it was wonderful getting to see original Muppet performer Dave Goelz as The Great Gonzo, among other characters. The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, as conducted by Thomas Wilkins, was in fine form, best exemplified during the fireworks finale, where they performed a medley of various Muppet songs, including Hey A Movie, Together Again, and We're Doing A Sequel.

The format was the same as the format of a Muppet Show episode. Instead of backstage antics filling the time between acts, there was a tenuous thread line about the show not being long enough that played out somewhat tiresomely over numerous scenes with Kermit and Scooter. The musical numbers typically landed better than the comedy sketches, which tried hard to replicate the meta humor of the original Muppet Show, and came close to doing so, but lacked something of the edge from that show. These sketches were almost trying too hard to please everyone in the audience.

Most of the classic sketches from The Muppet Show appeared in some form or another, including Veterinarian's Hospital, Pigs in Space, and Muppet Labs. They even did Wayne & Wanda. Twice. For those of you who don't know, Wayne & Wanda was one of my absolute favorite sketches even though it was discontinued after the first season of the show. It entailed Wayne and Wanda, a couple who sings standards that Sam Eagle is always trying to use to add some culture to the show. Their performances always start out good, until they get derailed by some literalization of the lyrics. In the Bowl show, they start singing Send in the Clowns only to be chased off stage by actual clowns. It was amazing. Their second appearance wasn't their best, unfortunately. They sang Otis Redding's Sittin on the Dock of the Bay, which itself is a bizarre choice for Wayne & Wanda, and the interruption is that they get eaten by a shark. I guess it's funny, but the lyrics of the song don't mention a shark or being eaten so it didn't fit the format. But considering we haven't seen these characters as anything other than background players since the '70s, I'll take what I can get.

Every episode of The Muppet Show had a celebrity guest star, and this time was no different. The guest was SNL's Bobby Moynihan, who I guess was a good choice if they couldn't get anyone more famous. He's a funny guy, even if the bits they wrote for him were sometimes awkward and corny. Also cool was when before he and the Muppets sang a song towards the end of the evening, Moynihan gave a mention to his high school, Eastchester High School, the same school I recently graduated from.

The show was advertised with surprise guests and, in that area, it was somewhat lacking. Danny Trejo and Jimmy Kimmel made brief video appearances, and aside from Moynihan, the only in person special guest was Paul Williams, who of course, composed several classic Muppet tunes, including The Rainbow Connection, which he sang with Kermit, although it was clearly lip-synched. I would have liked to see some genuinely surprising celebrity cameos, but considering how hard it would have been to arrange those, and how hard it must have been organizing the show in the first place, I understand why it didn't happen.

So, is the future of the Muppets on stage? Based on The Muppets Take the Bowl, the answer is: possibly. Perhaps the mammoth Hollywood Bowl was not the best place to try out their stage act. The venue is so large that it only emphasized how small the puppets actually are. They take up so little of the stage, it takes some out the enjoyment out of watching them. Also because of set changes and things like that, the pace was a lot slower than a Muppet Show episode, which a detriment to the comedy bits. Miss Piggy's big show-stopping number, where she performed Adele's Hello until she ends up getting tossed around the stage by her dancers was the evening's best use of the live element. The same number wouldn't have landed the same way in a movie, where it's less obvious the amount of work that goes into making a puppet look like it's not a puppet. If they can figure out how to infuse more of the show with the kind of energy generated in that number, I can easily see the Muppets playing in theatres all across the world.

By far, my favorite part of the evening came at the end of the curtain call, when Moynihan introduced the Muppet performers by name, and they each received enthusiastic applause from the audience. As Muppet fans, we never get the chance to cheer for those guys when they don't have a puppet on their hand. With everything happening lately in the Muppetsphere, I'm glad we a got chance to voice our sincerest appreciation for the work they do.


What did you think of The Muppets Take The Bowl? Do you hope to see The Muppets perform live more in the future? Let me know in the comments below! Thanks for reading!

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