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Monday, July 30, 2018

'The Muppets Take The O2' Review By Nicholas Napoli

After a 2.5-hour flight from Gibraltar to London, I was ready to watch The Muppets take over the O2, all three times. If I was going to make a trip like this, I was going to absorb as much of the show as possible. I had never been to the O2 arena before, I had no idea what to expect or even if I was at the right place, until I spotted a Muppet Fan. A girl wearing Miss Piggy ears, a Miss Piggy t-shirt, a Miss Piggy backbag and even Miss Piggy shoes, walked right past me, I was definitely at the right place. As I walked around the O2 arena, I was happily surprised, I hadn’t considered this to be a Muppet Fan convention but that was exactly where I was. Multiple people walked past me, wearing their favourite Muppet, Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock t-shirts and the most interesting thing for me, was the fact that I had no idea many of these designs existed. One guy had Uncle Deadly dancing in a tuxedo under a spotlight, it looked stunning. Another girl walked around wearing her Snowth backbag, I had to stop and ask to look at it, I had seen it online once and it was really expensive, I was jealous. Other Fans even came dressed as their favourite characters, I saw a couple dressed in full body Fozzie and Gonzo costumes, they looked amazing, as did others dressed as Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Kermit, amongst others, in their own unique fashionable ways. 

I had ordered my tickets through Ticketmaster, they had not arrived on time, they had been sent to the actual venue for collection on the day instead. Until I didn’t have those tickets in my hand, I did not feel at ease getting excited for a show there might be a chance, I might not get to see. As I made my way to the ticket desk, I got distracted along the way, there was a tiny store, filled with The Muppet Take The O2 merchandise. As I looked around, whilst deciding what to buy, I suddenly realized I was standing next to Matt Vogel, he too was casually standing amongst fans buying Muppet merchandise, this got me so excited, for some reason I bought two of everything. The line on Friday was not that long, but the show did start at 18:30 and I was already there by 16:00. As time got closer to the show, a much longer line began to form outside the tiny store. A queue so long, that it exceeded past the zig-zag barriers that kept the line in form. The next day the line was even longer, specifically during the manatee show, which was when most parents had come, along with their children. A big fail on the merchandise side, was the fact that there were no Muppet plush toys for sale, not even Kermits and Miss Piggys. I saw so many children carrying their own home- brought Kermit soft toys, a few even had this really good looking small full-bodied Kermit puppet, it looked amazing, I had no idea this had been available, I have to try and find it. Most children carried only Kermit and Fozzie soft toys, on occasion a Miss Piggy, Gonzo or Animal, we need a bigger selection of Muppet character plush toys to choose from. I’m sure had this store had Muppet plush toys of an assortment of characters, this is exactly the kind of place where they would sell out. 

The best thing I bought was a copy of The Muppets Take The O2 Programme book, it’s a nice souvenir and also very interesting. At the back of the book it lists bios for all of the main performers, not only are they given the recognition they honourably deserve but it also credits their work on Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and other past and upcoming Jim Henson projects. 

I find this very admirable
as it promotes The Muppets as being created by Jim Henson, even the book is dedicated in his honour, this is a truly special, Muppet item to have. Oddly enough the actual Muppet character bios list them all as still working on Up Late With Miss Piggy, I found that interestingly odd. At the end of the book there’s a beautiful illustration, I wish would have also been available as a poster. After I collected my ticket, I was eager to look through my new book, I sat at an open restaurant, I ordered a burger and started looking through the pages. Around me others were also reading their books, then inside the O2 arena other fans were reading their books too, some sat at restaurants, others on benches, on the floor or even standing in line waiting for the gates to open. 

As I walked around the O2 arena I bumped into many old friends and familiar faces, which I had first met back in 2012 and had not seen since. I met, spoke and became friends with some of these people waiting in line at a Muppet signing with Kermit and Pepe, held at HMV, promoting the DVD release of The Muppets (2011). Other’s I recognized from 2012’s Muppet signing but had never had the pleasure to speak too, this time around, I spoke with many Muppet Fans. This part alone was one of the many highlights of this trip for me, back home, unless online, I don’t get to have these discussions, for the second time in my life, I was luckily stuck inside the same room as a bunch of people who I could speak to about Muppets! Many shared pictures of their collections, visits to historic Jim Henson and Muppet Landmarks and some even shared their amazing homemade Muppet replicas. 

Eventually the gates opened and that’s when I realized this was an almost sold out show, I had never been amongst such a large group of people ever in my life before. As we made our way to the actual theatre I could begin to feel that Muppet rush, I’ve always felt since I was a child, starting to kick in, I was getting ready to watch The Muppet Show Live! As a child, watching my best of The Muppet Show VHS tapes, I never thought I’d actually ever experience the real thing, and today I was. The next night had a much bigger audience, probably a sold-out theatre from what I could see, both in the afternoon and the evening shows. As I admired the Muppet Show stage, I realized Kirk Thatcher was being greeted by fans on the other side of where I was seated. I had my autograph book with me, I had wanted to speak to him since I was ten years old, after having watched Muppet Treasure Island, the child in me always wondered why Uncle Deadly had not been a pirate? I have so much respect for Kirk Thatcher, he has learned from the great Jerry Juhl, the Muppets best writer. Long devoted performers as well as long devoted Muppet writers, those are the keys to a successful Muppet production, as both The Muppets Hollywood Bowl and The Muppets Take The O2 have proven to show. After ten minutes I found the courage, got up from my seat, made my way over to Kirk Thatcher, excitedly dropped my Kermit faced autograph book on his foot, and introduced myself to him. 

Finally, the moment we had all travelled to the O2 arena for, had finally arrived, it was time to light the lights, it was time to meet the Muppets, on The Muppet Show tonight! The opening theme to the original The Muppet Show began to play, right in front of my very eyes and suddenly the excitement I’ve always felt for the Muppets, ever since I was a little kid, came back in full force, something I have very much missed in recent years. As the show progressed I realized this was the first time, in a long time, I felt as though I were watching The Muppets again, my excitement was sky high, I don’t get that feeling at work, but the Muppets, as they do for everyone, reminds me of my childhood. During the opening number, we’re surprised by the fact that Bobby Moynihan, was reprising his role from The Hollywood Bowl show. This guy has great chemistry with the Muppets, he truly treats them as if they’re his real co-stars, I’m glad he continues to work alongside the Muppets. On both days, excluding Bobby Moynihan, different guest stars joined The Muppets on stage, making each day, a different experience, although honestly, I was just there for The Muppets. 

The Muppets Take The O2 had a British theme, which was very fun, there were British Bobbies, a British Bunny, British Hair and even a British crying Muppet Football performed by Mike Quinn. 
I wasn’t sure how the audience was going to react to this, luckily it’s The Muppets, everyone broke out laughing. Classic revived sketches returned including Pigs In Space, Muppet Labs, The Swedish Chef’s Kitchen and even a pre-recorded new sketch of an updated Vets Hospital. We’ve already had new Pigs In Space episodes revived back in 2016, hope we get more new Vets Hospital episodes throughout 2018. I wouldn’t be surprised if this particular one gets an official release online, spoiler alert… Nurse Yolanda makes a cameo appearance. One of my favourite sketches growing up was “Mahna-Mahna” and watching it play out live in front of me was truly amazing. Bill Barretta is incredible, as he runs from side to side, performing Mahna-Mahna yet also managing to stay out of shot all at the same time. Bill would run all the way back into the distance, only to run back up, joining the Snowths again, then appearing on one side, running to the other,

Bill was everywhere on stage, it’s not easy being a Muppeteer. What I really enjoyed about this sketch, was that it was finally somewhat different from what we always expect. This time around, Mahna-Mahna actually left the stage and didn’t come back, no phone call, no nothing, Scooter was left to walk back on stage wondering what was going on. I was so intrigued after so many years, I’m always expecting to see what’s going to happen next but this time I had no idea. Scooter manages to find someone, on both nights to replace the role of Mahna-Mahna as the Snowths continued to sing their song.

On the first night I was sat in Row B3, considering how big the O2 arena is, I assumed this row had a great view of the stage and it did. However, I was there to witness the Muppeteers performing the actual Muppets, I wasn’t interested in watching this on screen, I wanted to watch the actual performers bringing these characters to life. On the screen what I saw was what we’d get to see on tv, I wanted the live experience. Luckily the next day I was sat in Row A4, and this is when I truly enjoyed the show, I could see the performers as they moved their characters around, I could see their mouths moving, the characters live in front of me, what an amazing experience. I think it would be a good idea to use one screen to show the full performance (including the performers) and the second screen with only The Muppet, it is very interesting seeing them both play out at the same time. On occasions Statler and Waldorf would appear on both screens, heckling the show, as though they were sitting amongst the audience. I got so caught up in this Muppet show experience, that a part of me was expecting to find Statler and Waldorf sat somewhere amongst the crowd during intermission, I eventually realized these were pre-recorded clips. I would have personally have loved to have seen Statler and Waldorf watching down on the Muppet show from their balcony box, the same way it’s done at Muppet Vision 3D. I remember seeing that as a child, it was one of my biggest highlights having visited Disney World. 

Having watched videos online of The Hollywood Bowl, there were a few sketches I hoped would return this time around, specifically Eric’s Jacobson’s amazing performance, alongside others as Miss Piggy in a full-bodied song and dance number, inspired by Adel. I had watched this online multiple times, but watching it live was completely different, what a rush. Another sketch I hoped would return was Kermit performing Happy Feet, which to my lucky delight did return, beautifully performed by Matt Vogel, and I believe John Kennedy, keeping both of Kermit’s legs and arms on rhythm at the same time together, looking as one dancing real frog is tricky. I’m glad Peter Linz was able to bring back Walter, I missed him in The Muppets (2015). David Rudman is helping develop Scooter as a character, this is very welcomed, I’m glad Scooter’s growth as a character continues, as does his admiration for his Mom and his hatred towards Ken. I have so much respect for Dave Goelz, in my child eyes, he’s the last standing of the three original performers, the last Muppeteer who participated in the opening hot air balloon sequence in The Great Muppet Caper. I remember when I was little, one of my favourite video tapes, which I’d watch night after night, was the playhouse series “Gonzo Presents Muppet Weird Stuff”. The man who sang “I’m going to go back there someday”, this talented individual was performing live before my eyes, what an amazing thrill. 

Wayne and Wanda performed live, before getting attacked by a shark, Uncle Deadly and Miss Piggy’s friendship continues to grow, The Muppets parody Dr Who but one of the biggest highlights for me, was watching The Electric Mayhem perform live, most notably singing “Can You Picture That”. The Electric Mayhem performed their first live concert at Outside Lands Music Festival in 2016. Whilst in San Francisco, clips were filmed, particularly those involving Floyd and Janice, I find the cinematography here amazing, this is how I would personally like the next Muppet movie to look like. Sadly, this was also one of Steve Whitmire’s last performances, which I was reminded of when I realized Rizzo had not made an appearance on stage throughout the whole night. Considering the unfortunate situation regarding Steve Whitmire, I’m glad Rizzo has not been rushed to be recast, I find that very respectful. I truly hope Rizzo returns in the future, growing up in the 90’s, sometimes I felt as though Gonzo and Rizzo were the main characters in The Muppets, what a sad situation this continues to be. 

Near the end of the show Scooter appears, getting ready to introduce Kermit the Frog, when all of a sudden Bobo Bear interrupts him on stage. I was happily surprised at how loud the crowd cheered when Bobo showed up. Bobo Bear has quietly become a fan favourite and his random appearance on stage was very welcomed and enjoyable. At first, he asked Scooter if he had seen his car keys and later asked him if he still had a receipt for the pyjamas he bought him for his last birthday, apparently he wanted to exchange them. I have a feeling this was mostly improvised, it felt so naturally funny. Kermit is then about to begin singing The Rainbow Connection when suddenly Bobo Bear makes a second surprise appearance. This was very enjoyable as it led us into The Rainbow Connection as the audience laughed together, this was probably my favourite part. As Kermit begins to sing, other Muppet start joining him on stage, as do the guest stars and soon I come to realize that behind me, fans have turned on the flashlights on their phones, creating one of the most beautiful Muppet scenes I’ve ever seen in my entire life, this was breath-taking. 

The show then came to an end but the audience wanted more, we wanted an encore, and so we continued to clap, we continued to call out for The Muppets, I felt as though I were an audience member in the opening of The Muppets Take Manhattan. The curtains then open once more and everybody joins on stage for The Muppets big closing musical number, singing “With a little help from my friends”. This was truly a Muppet experience, this was a team effort, a full team that needs to stick together, for whatever it is the Muppets can do next, the magic is in the performance of this group of people, that is what we call The Muppet Show. 

- Nicholas Napoli

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