New this year on the Holiday circuit is a live musical version of one of my favorite holiday tv specials, chock full of 20th century style Muppets, proving the sweet optimism and artistry of Jim Henson lives on in Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas. Watching Emmet on my historic VCR every year has been a personal tradition; I am literally thrilled that this has made it to the stage, possibly becoming that new holiday tradition that you need now for your young and young at heart family and friends.
If you are looking for a deep or complex plot of selfless love this isn’t it, but if you are seeking a fun tuneful 100 minute experience in a gorgeous setting that the whole family will enjoy head to the recently revived jewel box Studebaker Theater on the first level of the treasured Fine Arts Building. Emmett, an otter, and his mom, who sing often together, have fallen on hard times and each of them makes an important sacrifice to enter the Christmas Eve talent show hoping to win the cash prize and get the other one a gift. It's an updated reworking of the Gift of the Magi–and of course it all works out in the end and there are many laughs, adorable puppets and danceable musical numbers along the way. This story has a kind of sunshine that comes from an earlier happier time, and it’s an energy we all need this holiday season.
This show has quite a pedigree: music and lyrics by the legendary Paul Williams who was in the house for this Chicago premiere. With a book by Timothy Allen McDonald and Christopher Gattelli who also directs, the production has the best of midwives. Andy Mientus as Emmet and Kathleen Monteleone as his mom bring memorably lovely vocal and acting talents to the touching relationship that is the beating heart of this show. Kevin Covert as Mayor Fox has unflappable comic timing. Sawyer Smith with the engineering marvel of a tail as Madam Squirrel was a standout and Sharriese Hamilton as Mrs MInk nearly brought the house down with her borderline inappropriate Burlesque as part of the Christmas Eve talent show. Every moment brings new delights and leaves a happy glow as you trundle out of the theater for more holiday merriment.
Get your tickets ASAP for this inaugural run: I suspect it will become a hot ticket. Jim Henson’s Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas is playing at the Studebaker Theater, 410 South Michigan Avenue, Tuesdays through Sundays until December 31, 2023. For tickets and information go to https://emmetotterlive.com/
Production photo of cast by Michael Brosilow
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