If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
“EMMET” RETURNS FOR THE HOLIDAYS AT GOODSPEED
Yes, it was just as good the second time around. The folks at Goodspeed Musicals may have shortened the name from “Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas” to just plain old “Emmet Otter” this year, but they haven’t cut back on the entertainment value offered by this delightful holiday musical currently back for a return visit in East Haddam. Jim Henson’s seasonal classic could cause Scrooge himself to break out in song. Indeed, my cheeks hurt afterwards from the non-stop smiling I experienced.
Based on the popular children’s book by Russell and Lillian Hoban and the all-puppet HBO special of the same name, “Emmet Otter” is a clever take on “The Gift of the Magi” as Ma Otter and her son, Emmet, take part in the animal-run town of Waterville’s first annual talent show in order to buy each other Christmas presents. Okay, it’s hardly “A Christmas Carol”, but theatergoers – and especially families – looking for a spiffy production with pleasant songs (by Paul Williams), some hilarious puppetry and a running time of just under two hours, have found their answer in East Haddam.
There’s been some trimming of the text this season – less of the human characters who bookend the story – and that’s all for the better. Also improved are the sight lines at Goodspeed where an automated platform allows for better viewing of those adorable squirrels attempting to build their own Christmas tree downstage. There are some new actors in the mix and, though there is still a tendency for many of them to condescend to their animal characters, it didn’t seem quite as distracting this time around. Besides, pity any human struggling to be noticed over the slew of furry muppets outrageously stealing scene after scene.
Under whiskers and pounds of fur, Kathy Fitzgerald and Justin Bohon play the Otter family with real feeling and their joyful approach to the material is warm and inviting. They also share pitch-perfect harmony together in the tuneful score which includes the musical’s signature song, “When the River Meets the Sea” - the type of uplifting ballad that had everyone joining in by final curtain.
Director/choreographer Christopher Gattelli again supervises the breathless onstage action with ease. Gregg Barnes’ creative costuming has every bushy tail and pointy antler in place and Ann Louizos’ storybook settings glow with the Christmas of fairy tales past. Special credit must also be given the immensely talented puppeteers: Jennifer Barnhart, Leo Daignault, Anney Ozar, James Silson and David Stephen. They are clearly a tireless crew. I don’t know who is responsible for the uproarious 30-second bit that finds a petrified deer caught in the spotlight, but I laughed just as hard at it this time as I did last year. Cheers!
“Emmet Otter” continues at Goodseed Musicals through January 3rd. For further information and ticket reservations call the box office at 860.873.8668 or visit their website at: www.goodspeed.org.
Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.
This review first appeared in Elm City Newspapers on December 23, 2009.