'Sesame Street' Grows Up

'Sesame Street' Grows Up

‘Puppet Up! — Uncensored!’ brings a new and very adult side of Muppets magic to the Pasadena Playhouse

By Carl Kozlowski 07/24/2014

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Think back to your first memories of the Muppets and you will likely envision the peaceful environs of the classic children’s TV show “Sesame Street,” or perhaps the innocent comic anarchy of the many Muppets movies. 


But this weekend, the Pasadena Playhouse will team up with late Muppets creator Jim Henson’s team to show an entirely different side of his creativity when they bring “Puppet Up! – Uncensored” to the stage today through Saturday for one weekend only. 


A wild mix of songs, videos, improv sketches and musical numbers, “Puppet Up!” promises to be unlike anything the Playhouse has ever offered the public. Creatively shepherded by Henson’s son Brian, the show also features veteran improvisational comedy master Patrick Bristow of the famed Groundlings performance troupe as the show’s emcee and fellow producer. 


“It’s kind of a variety show with puppets and improv, but totally for adults,” explains Bristow. “There’s no script, but we do have a big opening and closing musical number and there are a couple of perfect recreations of lost sketches that Jim Henson and Frank Oz did in their studio for fun many years ago. Overall, however, it’s rooted in choosing topics called out by the audience and building scenes around them.” 


While normal human improv is easy to stage because it requires almost no costumes or props to be performed effectively, “Puppet Up!” is a whole other animal. Audiences will be given the chance to focus on both puppeteers operating at stage level and puppets performing on big screens above and to the side of the stage. 


The show is made particularly impressive by the fact that the puppeteers can not operate using eye contact with each other because they have to focus on the screens, eliminating the key element of the Emmy-winning magic found on “Sesame Street” and the Muppets films. Fortunately, the puppeteers have succeeded at special improv training since 2005 which caters to their predicament, and over the years they have adapted into a smooth-running and hilarious team. 


But above all else, it’s a window into the mind of creative genius Jim Henson and his favorite dark form of humor. 


“Jim had been gone long before [his son Brian] did this, but if you look at some of his early commercials and early routines on TV, a lot have dark underpinnings and a certain amount of mayhem,” says Bristow. “The world he created long before ‘Sesame Street’ was not one of safety and comfort. He had puppets eating each other, stabbing each other and pushing each other out of planes. Our show allows us to go back into that darker, more subversive style of humor that he started out with and by all accounts remained his personal humor throughout his life.” 

“Puppet Up! – Uncensored” plays at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. Tickets are $30 to $75. Call (626) 792-8672 or pasadenaplayhouse.org. 

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