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Hollywood Bowl - Fireworks Finale: The Muppets Take the Bowl at The Hollywood Bowl 9/8/17. Photo by Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging. Used with permission.
Hollywood Bowl – Fireworks Finale: The Muppets Take the Bowl at The Hollywood Bowl 9/8/17. Photo by Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging. Used with permission.

Hollywood, CA- The Muppets live are pretty much exactly what you would expect: zany, goofy, frenetic, and an all-around good time. Musicians, Muppets, Muppeteers, and even a full choir dashed about, with host Bobby Moynihan popping up to add some human schtick & fireworks ending the show with a blast. The audience had come prepared for the mayhem, wearing Muppet outfits and clutching stuffed animals.

Attending the first of their three performances with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, I was pleasantly surprised by how well the concept transferred to the stage. Each Muppet came onto stage manned by a team of Muppeteers who were shrouded in head-to- toe black suits. They looked a bit like goth beekeepers as they ran or rolled across the scene.

Hollywood Bowl - Fireworks Finale: The Muppets Take the Bowl at The Hollywood Bowl 9/8/17. Setlist.Despite the visible workings – and the fact that many Muppets only existed from the waist up – you quickly saw past the humans. The close-up shots on the screens certainly helped, but Muppet magic easily created the illusion of living creatures in spite of the obvious wires. The only part that felt unreal was the new voices, which while skillfully performed did not match up with my childhood memories.

Host Bobby Moynihan, alas, did not fare as well as the puppets. The clichéd advice that actors should avoid working with dogs and children should apparently extend to Muppets, who upstaged Moynihan in every scene. While he was game and went along with the onstage mayhem, his brand of comedy didn’t work well in a 17,500-seat venue. Much of what I love about him as a comic comes from his facial expressions and small movements, which were swallowed up by the vastness of the Bowl. Though I can watch David S. Pumpkins on an endless loop, he was ultimately forgettable in what was undoubtedly a thankless task with the Muppets.

Conductor Thomas Wilkins, by contrast, played a memorable role throughout in spite of the fact that his back was to the audience the majority of the time. A highlight of the evening was the conducting battle between Wilkins and Pepé the King Prawn, who tricked him into leaving the stage by issuing a fake tow warning for a car with license plate ICONDUCT. They faced off: 1 baton versus 4 “sticks” – after all, if you have extra appendages, you might as well use them. The conductor seemed to be having a blast throughout. I walked away thinking that the delightful Wilkins should have been the host since he balanced his conducting duties with charisma and effective Muppet-wrangling.

Video clips throughout the performance contributed to the frenetic feel of the evening. Jimmy Kimmel, Guillermo Rodriguez, and Danny Trejo all popped up for a brief video interaction with the Muppets. Other snippets emphasized the “Muppets in Hollywood” theme, including references to the Hollywood sign and of course an ode to the various freeways. The tech in general was fabulous, from gorgeous saturated lighting to seamless movement of set pieces.

The show was a crowd pleaser, cramming in every possible greatest hit and beloved character. Kermit, Piggy, Fozzy, Gonzo, Pigs in Space, etc. – everyone was there. Fans sang along with “Rainbow Connection” – performed in front of a rainbow-lit arch – and of course joined in for the inevitable earworm, “Mahna Mahna.” And Statler and Waldorf jeered everyone on.

Overall, the evening was a winner. The members of my group agreed that while we had only agreed to go to humor the birthday girl among us, we ended up having a ball and were thrilled we had attended the show. Serious it was not, but I haven’t smiled that much at a show in years.

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