“The Muppet Show” and Broadway

When I was young, I was an avid watcher of The Muppet Show. I loved the Muppets in general, but this variety show was my favorite of them all and I enjoyed watching reruns . I was even ad avid watcher of the 1996 reboot Muppets Tonight! which failed to recreate the success of the original. Sure, I’ve seen the films and TV specials and other series and I’ve liked them, but this one was always my personal favorite. The Emmy Award winning show’s foundations were in vaudeville and music hall, with very special guest stars each week (this show made Rita Moreno an EGOT). The backstage shenanigans were complemented by the show-within-the show, which featured regular sketches and songs.

As I got older I started to realize that a lot of these guest stars, as well as the material which they performed, came from the world of musical theatre. I didn’t realize it when I was younger, but the show was highly influential in my early growth as a theatre person. I also still remember that it was the first time I ever saw Bernadette Peters in my life. Here are just a handful of those performances.

Julie Andrews and the gang sing The Sound of Music’s “The Lonely Goatherd”


Jean Stapleton (Bells Are Ringing, Funny Girl) sings one of Irving Berlin’s famous quodlibets “Play a Simple Melody” with Fozzie Bear.


Another Berlin quodlibet – and one of the more offbeat Muppet performances: Tony nominee Cleo Laine (The Mystery of Edwin Drood) sings “You’re Just in Love” from Call Me Madam with the Swedish Chef.


Ethel Merman sings a rather tender version of “There’s No Business Like Show Business” to Fozzie after his comedy act has bombed. The number transitions onstage for the Merm’s trademark finish.


Last but least is “Just One Person” from the musical Snoopy, which played off-Broadway and London in the early 80s. It was sung on this show by Bernadette Peters, but became closely identified with Muppet creator Jim Henson. When he died suddenly in 1990, the song was performed on a Muppet special that dealt with his death and also by his colleagues at his London memorial service.



"The Mystery of Edwin Drood"

I read The Mystery of Edwin Drood in 8th grade for a book report and the only thing I remembered about it was that Charles Dickens died before he could finish it. Then a few years later in high school I discovered The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the musical and suddenly I became much more interested. With its book and score by Rupert Holmes, the musical was styled after the conventions of the British music hall. With no record as to who (spoiler alert) killed Edwin Drood, it was left to the audience to decide each performance. Then came out Betty Buckley in a pants role (meaning an actress playing a man) as Drood to belt the living daylights out of “The Writing on the Wall,” which ends with the famous E note. The sad news is the cast album has been out of print for years (there are two editions that go for monstrous amounts on amazon and e-bay), but if you ever get the chance, you need to hear Ms. B blast that song to high heaven. (Will someone reissue this… please?) The musical first played in Central Park as part of the Public’s summer lineup, presented by Joe Papp with direction by Wilford Leach and choreography from Graciela Daniele. As for the casting, the show starred Buckles, as well as George Rose (who won the Best Actor Tony), the sublime Cleo Laine as the Princess Puffer, Howard McGillin, Patti Cohenour with Donna Murphy and Judy Kuhn in the ensemble. (Murphy replaced Buckley later in the run). Here is the original cast on the 1986 Tony awards.