Television is often accused of cutting into family bonding time, but studies of family media use have shown that in fact, early TV proponents who argued that it would bring families together were right on: a significant amount of the time that kids and parents spend in the same room together is time spent watching TV. Further, they actually spend a lot of that time cuddling and interacting, talking about the programs and about other things. It’s oddly appropriate, then, that the first production in a season the Children’s Theatre Company is promoting under the slogan together time now on sale is based on a classic television show.
Bert & Ernie, Goodnight!, a musical comedy making its world premiere with this production, is notable for being the first time Sesame Workshop has allowed Sesame Street Muppets to be depicted by human beings not wearing felt costumes. Bradley Greenwald (as Bert) and Reed Sigmund (as Ernie), the pair who played Frog and Toad in CTC’s successful dramatization of Arnold Lobel’s stories, were natural choices for the experiment. It was odd to see the first photos of the two in character, but onstage the pair succeed about as well as could have possibly been expected by evoking the personalities and mannerisms of the famous puppets without trying too cartoonishly to act like puppets themselves.
|bert & ernie, goodnight! is presented through october 25 by the children’s theatre company, 2400 3rd ave. s., minneapolis. for tickets ($29.50-$43.50 for adults, with discounts for children, seniors, and students) and information, see childrenstheatre.org.|
Even in lesser hands, Bert and Ernie would probably have come across well onstage, because the characters were inspired by the virtually failproof vaudeville tradition of the odd couple: the straight man and the funnyman. Bert & Ernie, Goodnight! presents the definitive Bert and Ernie scenario: Bert is trying to sleep, but Ernie keeps distracting him. Several of the duo’s most beloved skits are incorporated into the play: Ernie counting fire engines, Bert doing the pigeon dance, Ernie softshoeing with sheep. (Not omitted is Bert’s bewildered cry, “Ernie—the sheep! They’re tap-dancing!”)
Greenwald, Sigmund, and director Peter C. Brosius find and sustain the right tone: madcap but endearingly sweet-natured humor. It’s a faithful representation of the spirit of Sesame Street, and G.W. Mercier’s set design captures just enough of the program’s homemade feel. Mercier must have been gratified to hear the ovation the crowd gave the set when the curtain rose at this afternoon’s performance, applause expressing the delight of seeing the bedroom so familiar from the TV program recreated in three dimensions before our eyes.
Young children—appropriately well-represented in Saturday’s audience—react to entertainment with their entire bodies, and at the show’s peaks of energy, the scene in the theater was not dissimilar to that seen in Disney’s “Orphans’ Benefit” cartoon. If things got a little loud in the theater-wide peanut gallery, that wasn’t a problem, because Greenwald and Sigmund were inevitably louder, banging drums and jumping on beds and eventually knocking down walls. I criticized the freneticism of CTC’s adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but quick-cut cacophony is in Bert and Ernie’s DNA. By the end of the show, you feel like you’ve seen a rock show for four-year-olds. My mom accompanied me to the performance, and when the lights came up she looked a little overwhelmed. “That,” she said, “was rather frantic!”
Jay Gabler (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Daily Planet’s arts editor.
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