It’s the holiday season. You want to do something special with the family, but you’ve seen The Nutcracker and A Christmas Carol umpteen times. What to do? Fortunately, there is a new seasonal alternative, now playing at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT. Titled Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, the production is a joint effort between Goodspeed and The Jim Henson Company, home of The Muppets and other assorted enchanting creations. Based on the children’s book of the same name and, more notably, the 1977 television special directed by Henson, with a score by Paul Williams, Emmet Otter is, according to the program notes, “where love and family and the hope of the holiday period take the chill off a frozen river, where the sounds of the season bring an infectious boost to the spirit, and where Emmet Otter and his friends make a little bit of magic right before your eyes.”
The Goodspeed production brings the characters of Frogtown Hollow alive, mixing actors portraying the creatures along the river with specially designed puppets by The Henson Company. Henson’s handiwork adds a touch of warmth as well as zaniness to the musical. Think of the old Muppet Show with their madcap skits and humor. Director and choreographer Christopher Gattelli, who also helped out with the book, wonderfully weaves the live action and the assorted animal puppets into a heartwarming and touching Christmas story.
Loosely based on the O. Henry short story, "The Gift of the Magi," Emmet Otter and his mother secretly enter the town talent contest, sacrificing the other’s prized possession, in hopes of winning the fifty dollar grand prize, to make their loved one’s Christmas so memorable.
The musical is highly entertaining and touching at the same time, without all the gooiness associated with most holiday entertainments. The score by Paul Williams incorporates many different styles and shows why he is a Hall of Fame songwriter and multiple award winner. You can listen to two original songs, "Alice Keep Dreaming" and "Waterville," composed by Paul Williams for this stage version and sung by the composer. The human cast, outfitted in costumes by The Henson Company, is marvelous, staying in character without devolving into an overly preening caricature of the creatures they portray (click here to view a slide show of the preliminary costume sketches.)
Kudos to The Goodspeed Opera House and The Jim Henson Company for transforming a 1970’s television special into a magical stage experience for all ages. Let’s hope this production will become a holiday tradition mainstay in Connecticut. Now playing through January 4th.