Sesame Street Live!
A little over a year ago, I wrote a blog post about my surreal experience watching Paw Patrol Live! with my son and wife. As a dad, the animated version of Paw Patrol is something I wearily endure because I love my son and want him to be happy, even when the things that bring him pleasure sometimes give me migraine headaches instead.
That’s how it was with Paw Patrol Live! The evil non-geniuses behind the show took something that was already tacky and dumb, juvenile and designed exclusively to sell toys and other ephemeral merchandise and somehow made it even dumber and tackier, while adding nightmarish new elements like “costumes” that inexplicably left the performer’s entire head and torso exposed so it looked like the lovable, technology-obsessed canine do-gooders of the animated hit were grotesque, nightmare fusions of dog and man out of David Cronenberg’s worst nightmares.
Yes, Paw Patrol Live took something that was already egregiously terrible and somehow made it even worse. So I was curious as to how the “live show for small, easily distracted children” format would treat a venerable pop culture institution that I not only like but absolutely adore.
For my son’s fourth birthday I bought him tickets for a two o’clock show of Sesame Street Live, which brings the magic of learning, imagination, branding synergy and merchandising to the masses through the upbeat, energetic tale of a hipster magician named Justin who is scheduled to do a show at Sesame Street with Elmo as his helper but first needs to explore his environment in order to get ideas for his big performance.
At this point, I know what you’re thinking: how on earth could Sesame Street do a show about magic without prominently showcasing The Amazing Mumford, the W.C Fields-like illusionist who has been the show’s resident conjurer of tricks for much of its existence? Sesame Street Live, needless to say, is not designed for old-ass people like me who not only remember The Amazing Mumford but feel weirdly protective about him.
Oscar the Grouch, Ernie and Bert didn't make the cut for Sesame Street Live! either and they’re slightly more important to the show. No, Sesame Street Live is all about presenting these characters and their world in a way that resonates very directly with children around the age of four.
Before the show began I bought Declan a snow cone that came in an Elmo mug with a plastic cover designed
p[;-=] to look like Elmo's head for a mere fifteen dollars. It was cute but in use it really made it look like Declan was devouring Elmo’s icy brain like something out of a kiddie version of Hannibal or Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Then it was time for the show.
Thematically, Sesame Street Live’s “Make Your Magic” show is weirdly, if not uncannily similar to the notorious Insane Clown Posse message song “Miracles” only instead of the denizens of Sesame Street looking at phenomena like a guitar making music and colors mixing to create new colors as everyday miracles, like Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J do on “Miracles”, the Muppets here instead see this fantastical natural phenomena as magic.
In “Miracles”, ICP raps that they’ve “seen a caterpillar turn into a butterfly”, a reference to the central role butterflies play in Insane Clown Posse iconography. Sesame Street Live’s “Make Your Magic” similarly features characters who see in the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly something that goes beyond the laws of nature to become a source of wonder.
Justin is on hand to tell the Muppets here that they’re a bunch of fucking idiots, and what looks like “magic” to their ignorant, disbelieving eyes is actually a mere matter of science.
The actor portraying Justin was, I believe, the only non-Muppet with any dialogue but for reasons I never quite understood, there were a fair share of adult singer/dancer/actor types in exaggerated “kiddie” fashion, most notably the rakishly titled backwards baseball hat that screams “I’m an adult doing a crude burlesque of childhood innocence! Isn’t that fun!” gyrating robotically with big, plastic smiles on their faces, faces that clearly were starting to cramp up from the stress and pressure of having to pretend to be deliriously happy for no reason for extended periods of time.
Truth be told, the Sesame Street Muppets also spent much of the show gyrating robotically to versions of recent Sesame Street favorites (meaning “Elmo’s Got The Moves” is represented, while “It’s Not Easy Being Green” or “C is For Cookie” most assuredly are not) that took already blindingly shiny pop songs for tots and made them even more plastic and superficial.
The Elmo costume that figures prominently in the proceedings is undoubtedly the best, most professional and convincing Elmo costume around but the person inside it was still a six foot tall human being inside an expensive costume and not an incredibly expressive child-sized puppet like on Sesame Street.
Sesame Street Live! was ultimately an hour and a half of bright noises, irritatingly catchy music and frenetic motion featuring characters everybody loves in their simplest, most toddler-friendly form. That was enough for the tots in the audience and for me. The version of Sesame Street the live shows may be dumbed down and sped up, but it still retains enough of the show’s charm to set it apart from monstrosities like Paw Patrol Live, although that’s setting the bar so low it’d be almost impossible for a perpetually worthwhile endeavor like Sesame Street in all its forms not to clear it.
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