If Sesame Street's red, eternally three-year-old Muppet seems less ubiquitous these days than he did during the "Tickle Me Elmo" hysteria of the late '90s, well, he's got a lot more competition. Sure, plenty of kids still want to be shown how to get, how to get to Sesame Street, but nowadays there are more distractions than ever. And Dora the Explorer, the Cyclopean yet quirky denizens of Yo Gabba Gabba!, and dozens of other shows on a half dozen networks are all vying for your child's delicious brains, er, attentions spans.
Elmo and the rest of his Sesame Street buddies are still big enough to play eight shows in Houston over four days, however, and not a lot of his contemporaries can draw those kind of crowds. But how does the Street That Henson Built hold up after 40+ years? I headed down to opening night at Reliant Arena last night -- my two youngest in tow -- to see for myself.
And maybe to score some merch. Because my house doesn't have enough Sesame Street crap in it already.
If you get to the Arena early, they've got something called "Play Zone" set up. This consists of various Sesame Street locations arranged for photo opportunities. Kids can crawl into one of two garbage cans flanking Oscar the Grouch, hop into Big Bird's nest or rifle through Maria's lingerie drawer. Ha ha. Heh.
A few of the performers also put in an appearance around 30 minutes before showtime. Last night it was Bert, Ernie and Zoe, but I have no idea if this is consistent throughout the show's run. Generational differences being what they are, Zoe definitely elicited a bigger reaction from the assembled children. There's no denying Bert and Ernie have been relegated to secondary player status on the show. And then there's...that other thing.
I'm talking of course about Bert's unhealthy paper-clip fixation.
The show itself is built around the arrival of a (human) schoolteacher named Jenny, who moves into Sesame Street to teach music, apparently at one of the schools in the neighborhood that nobody seems to attend (kids run around on that street like hooligans 24-7). Unfortunately, the truck with all her instruments has yet to show up, and after Jenny demonstrates to the Muppets that you can make music out of just about anything, Elmo and friends decide to surprise her by making instruments out of everyday items. Let's face it, this is probably more help than she can expect to get from the New York City Dept. of Education.
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And that's pretty much it. Most of the primary characters get their own showcases (Elmo does an "Elmo's World" segment, Telly sings "The Triangle Cheer") while Jenny has her own numbers, which, through no fault of her own, can't really compete with the more elaborate stage decoration and, oh yes, those beloved fuzzy characters jumping around.
Some attempts have been made to update the material ("Elmo Makes Music" has been around, in various incarnations, since 2001). There's a decidedly Stomp-esque number featuring Oscar, and newer characters like Abby Cadabby are featured more prominently. But some of the stuff, which I assume is what they're referring to in the event description as "music adults will recognize," is hilariously dated. Okay, I can buy Big Bird singing "Rockin' Robin," but putting Bert in a white disco suit for "The Hustle," of all things, is a bit much. Everybody knows the Count is the Disco Muppet.
If I had any complaint (aside from the vendor who trotted out a giant collection of $10-a-pop Elmo balloons in front of my kids during intermission), it's that Reliant Arena, with its cement floors and exposed beams, just isn't a very pleasant setting for this kind of thing. It's perfect for sinister adult entertainment like boxing and Jeff Dunham, but the place is a bit...dank for the likes of Elmo.
Then again, judging by the reaction of the assembled children, they cared not a whit. At an hour and 15 minutes, "Elmo Makes Music" runs a little long for the youngest of the younger set, but it's hard to go wrong with Sesame Street. And it's definitely a better value for your buck than what Yo Gabba Gabba! gives you.