Do you remember Emmet Otter and his Jug Band? They are back and on stage.

Paul Williams – yes, that Paul Williams, the rare singer-songwriter to have collaborated with Barbra Streisand, Brian De Palma and Daft ...


Paul Williams – yes, that Paul Williams, the rare singer-songwriter to have collaborated with Barbra Streisand, Brian De Palma and Daft Punk – only had a few tips during a rehearsal in November, but when he spoke , everyone listened. The squirrels, who had been quite agitated seconds earlier, were concentrating. George and Melissa Rabbit were all ears.

After all, when the guy who wrote the sheet music is giving notes, even the woodland animals pay attention.

Williams, lively and mischievous at 81, had stopped by Manhattan’s New Victory Theater to check out the early stages of “Jug-Band Christmas by Emmet Otter by Jim Henson, ”Which boasts an on-stage puppet menagerie from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.

Williams and Henson of course went back: in 1976, the musician was a guest on the eighth episode of “The Muppet Show”, and a few years later he wrote or co-wrote the songs for “The Muppet Movie” , including Oscar nominated “Rainbow Connection”.

In between these two projects, Henson asked him to create the score for “Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas,” a one-hour television show that aired in America on HBO in 1978.

“I was delighted to work with Jim,” said Williams. “He sent me the script and the book, and I sat there and wrote. I think I was sort of auditioned for ‘The Muppet Movie,’ which was a huge risk for them to. the time. “

Based on an illustrated children’s book by Lillian and Russell Hoban, “Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas” begins with the main character and his mother barely makes ends meet doing odd jobs by the river in Frogtown Hollow. . So when they hear about a talent show with a cash prize of $ 50, they separately decide to participate. Emmet plays double bass in a band with his furry friends, and Ma sings, but they face stiff competition, especially from the ugly Riverbottom Nightmare Band, whose members include an ermine, snake and weasel. . The 75-minute music production takes place 11 Dec-Jan 2 to the New Victory, with streaming available from Dec 17 to Jan 2.

“What I love about the show, and what I really appreciate more now that I’m older, is that it has so much heart,” said Christopher Gattelli, who directs and wrote the book with Timothy. Allen McDonald. “At the same time, he’s got that big, crazy Muppet wit, those zingers and really fast takes, and those 30 second acts that are just hilarious. It’s like a “Muppet Show” with a story. “

Gattelli and McDonald worked on a first adaptation for Connecticut’s Goodspeed musicals in 2008, but they returned to the drawing board for this one, which features four puppeteers and eight actors. “There’s more puppet business going on, and it’s music to my ear,” said Cheryl Henson, Jim’s daughter and an investor in the new show. (John Tartaglia, a Tony candidate for “Avenue Q,” is credited for directing puppets.)

While Goodspeed used original figures from the special, they are now in museums and had to be rebuilt for the new victory.

“But of course, they don’t make the same fur anymore,” said Rollie Krewson, who built Wendell Porcupine and Charlie Beaver for the TV show; she is now a master designer and puppet builder at the Creature Shop. “I had to find furs that mimic more of what actor Emmet is wearing. They wanted a new Ma too, and we built a Pa Otter – there never had been.

During this rehearsal in Long Island City, the felt cast often acted as if they had their own life between scenes. “I consider it a good race if I forget they’re puppets,” Colin Trudell, who plays Emmet, said of his co-stars. “Puppeteers are also masters of improvisation – the things that come out of their mouths during rehearsals really bring the characters to life.”

Trudell, who graduated from Texas State University in May, had not seen the TV show when he auditioned for the stage version, and he first watched it before his recall. Can’t fault him for missing something: ‘Emmet Otter’ has stayed under the radar for a long time (it is now available for streaming on Amazon and other platforms); and a proper soundtrack didn’t come out until 2018, so it doesn’t keep up with the more famous Henson properties.

His fans, however, are dedicated and loyal, often passing the “Emmet Otter” tradition from generation to generation, as happened in the Gattelli family.

A big reason for the show’s cult following is its rare humor and warmth. Without being moralistic, it is an ode to friendship and family ties, as well as to the idea of ​​community. Of course, you won’t be able to get the song’s riff out of your head after hearing the Riverbottom Nightmare Band growl: “We take what we want / We do whatever we want / We have no respect / For animals, birds or fish. “

But these are Ma Otter’s words you will remember: “Some say our world is getting too small,” she sings, “I say, with kindness, / There is room for all of us. “

Williams’ numbers for the original show offer an odd mix of 1970s styles, with echoes of Randy Newman, Alice Cooper and the Carpenters. Except when the merry Nightmare Band is heard, the music is filtered through an American vibe that transcends decades and has been beautifully captured by My Morning Jacket in a painful cover of “Brothers in Our World” on the tribute “Muppets: The Green Album”.

“For me, music is the heart and soul of this piece,” Henson said. “What works so well is that it’s delivered by these characters who are creatures – it’s a living storybook.”

For Williams, these creatures made the mission effortless: he just received the furry (or scaly, as the case may be) subjects of the series.

“There are all these little touches in the script, amazing little clues about who the characters are,” he said. “My wife and I use the line all the time when the Riverbottom Nightmare Band just got totally rude to all the treehouse guys, and Charlie says, ‘They look nice. “It’s that human element that speaks to me,” he continued, “and it speaks to me on a level where it’s the easiest writing I’ve ever had to do.”

One thing that didn’t match, however, is a conventional “Jingle Bells” type number. Although the story takes place around Christmas, there is no song specifically about the holidays. Williams just didn’t see the need for it in “Emmet Otter”.

“There are two tasks in writing songs for a movie or a play or whatever,” he said. “One is to illustrate the character’s inner life, and the other is to move the story forward. When you’re done, you say to yourself, “What’s missing? And I never felt like something was missing.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Do you remember Emmet Otter and his Jug Band? They are back and on stage.
Do you remember Emmet Otter and his Jug Band? They are back and on stage.
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