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Thursday, February 01, 2018

Muppets in Wellington: Capital to Host World-First Jim Henson Tribute Concert with Bret McKenzie

Wellingtonian Bret​ McKenzie, who won an Oscar for his Man or Muppet song in 2012, looks set to reunite with Kermit the Frog as he takes to the stage in the Michael Fowler Centre in April as part of a tribute to Jim Henson.

The two shows, on April 27 and 28, will be the only performances anywhere in the world of the The Jim Henson Retrospectacle concert.

The two concerts will mark the conclusion of a 21-day showcase of events celebrating the work of Henson, a puppeteer, artist, cartoonist, inventor, screenwriter and filmmaker, who died in 1990.

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra will play during the Jim Henson Retrospectacle concert with Bret McKenzie.

The events will include a film fortnight series, muppeteering workshops and masterclasses, and events run by movie insiders at the Weta group of companies.

Weta boss Sir Richard Taylor said he was looking forward to the event.

"Today, as ever, Jim Henson's creations and filmmaking continue to bring great happiness to adults and children alike.

"Weta Workshop has a strong association with the work of Jim Henson, and I feel a particular affinity with Jim's artistic outlook and vision, as he has been inspirational in our collective careers.

"Jim's visionary fantasy films, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, have earned their place in cinematic history as must-see classics of their genre."

The mini-festival will be supported by the Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency (Wreda) and has received $350,000 from the Government's Major Events Development Fund.

Wellington ratepayers will also contribute, though Wreda interim chief executive Derek Fry would not disclose the amount, beyond saying it was "relatively modest".

He was confident the city would reap economic returns from the investment. "It'll attract visitors from all around New Zealand and Australia. We're also expecting some hardcore Muppet fans to travel from further afield as well."

The festival was part of Wreda's plans to "supercharge" events in the region after the loss of the Wellington Sevens tournament.

Fry said Wellington's involvement in the film industry was a draw card for the event, and McKenzie 's relationship with Kermit made the city the perfect place for the concert.

McKenzie will perform live with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Henson characters from The Muppets, Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock.

Shortly after winning his Oscar for best original song, McKenzie said: "Definitely, Jim Henson influenced me. He's a huge inspiration, and the other thing I love about the guy is he made children's films that I think he found funny."

He said on Wednesday: "Working with The Muppets over the past years has been an amazing opportunity, and I would love to be able to share some of that experience with an audience here in New Zealand."

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester said he was delighted the city would be hosting the event.

During the festival, Te Papa will host behind-the-scenes panels, workshops and masterclasses by Henson alumni, including puppet designer Bonnie Erickson, whose most notable creations include Miss Piggy; and Dave Goelz, who for four decades has been bringing to life such Muppet characters as the Great Gonzo.

Weta Workshop artists will also be taking part. Rare footage from Henson archives, experimental short films, commercials, classic feature films, and a New Zealand premiere will also be screened.

Nic Marshall, director of not-for-profit organisation Square Eyes Film Foundation, is bringing the show to Wellington in partnership with the New York-based Jim Henson Legacy. She said: "This is a rare opportunity to marvel at the scope and huge appeal of Jim Henson's work … to go deep into an extensive and brilliant moving image back catalogue; to look closely at Jim's life, partnerships and life-affirming inspirations; and to consider the impact of his unique imagination and outlook within New Zealand's own creative community."

Craig Shemin​, president of the Jim Henson Legacy and muppet historian, said: "We're really thrilled to share the power of Jim's art, his imagination and his positive view of life with a New Zealand audience … we are so happy it's finally happening."

Tickets for The Jim Henson Retrospectacle events go on sale on Thursday, February 8, 2018, at 9am through Ticketmaster. Prices range from $49 to $109 for the concert.

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