In 1977, Jim Henson showed the world how expansive his unique puppets’ universe could be by developing a charming television special based on the book Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas by Russell and Lillian Hoban. Well-meaning Emmet and his devoted and somewhat naive Ma are scraping by: taking in laundry and doing odd jobs around their town of Frogtown Hollow. When they hear about a Christmas Eve talent contest, they each take a risk in order to try to win the $50 grand prize and buy a special present for the other.
31 years later, the Jim Henson Company expanded Emmet’s world again by creating a live adaptation with iTheatrics. Henson’s wondrous Creature Shop creatures performed alongside humans outfitted in imaginative woodland costumes. With folksy songs by Paul Williams and a straightforward book by Timothy Allen McDonald and Christopher Gattelli, this musical production is currently playing for a reduced capacity audience at the New Victory Theater on famed 42nd Street.
Under Gattelli’s direction, the work makes full use of the New Victory’s space. The beloved Henson Creatures add humor, with bits that also serve to break the story into bite-sized chunks easily digested by younger audience members. The characters are all appropriately sweet including puppeteer Anney Ozar’s crusty old Mrs. Possum who shows a caring side while at her piano. Even the members of the Riverbottom Nightmare Band are more mild bad boys than genuine hoodlums. Likewise, the actors are warm and low key. While newcomer Colin Trudell’s Emmet and Cass Morgan’s Ma ground the center of the story, it is LaVon Fisher-Wilson who kicks up the energy singing “Born In a Trunk” as Mrs. Mink, the Ma Rainey of Waterville. (She also takes on the role of Mrs. Squirrel whose puppet children perform the other show stopper, “Trust That Branch.”)
The entire look and feel of the show is in Jim Henson’s Creature Shop’s trademark style. Anna Louizos’s set of dusky sky over rippling water, Matt Kraus’s soundscape of whispering winds, Gregg Barnes’s whimsical wardrobe and Melissa Munn’s clever make up design all work together to bring Emmet’s world to colorful life.
Like cocoa topped with marshmallows, Jim Henson’s Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas will warm up a wintery afternoon. It is recommended for family members age 5 and older. Tickets start at $25 and there are no bad seats in the house. Proof of full vaccination is required for everyone over 12 (one dose for children 5-11) and face masks must be worn at all times. A 72 hour On-Demand pass is also available for $25. Although you may miss the electric charge of sharing the experience with strangers, with the four camera streaming version you get close-ups of those delightful puppets and sign interpretation and audio description are easily accessed. Running time is 75 minutes live and 80 minutes on demand with a brief introduction and outro. The production runs through January 2, 2022. For more information and to purchase tickets visit https://newvictory.org/tickets-and-events/2122-live-performance-emmet-otters-jugband-christmas/.