The legendary Feinstein/54 Below in Manhattan, NY is home to some of Broadway’s most legendary names who have left their mark upon the musical cabaret theater. This year, on November 20th, the 54 Below gathered together a team of truly talented performers to put another rare performance of their hit show, 54 Celebrates The Muppets. Combining brilliant musical performances and talented Broadway-esque artistry, this show is the perfect unofficial celebration of the fantastic world inspired by the works of Jim Henson.
The reason that this show is unofficial is because to the best of our knowledge, the show is not licensed or participated in part with Disney, Sesame Workshop, or The Jim Henson Company in any capacity. However, what takes place at this phenomenal show feels something entirely else, and that is the fact that it feels like a show put on by fans for fans. The cultural relevance of The Muppets has touched audiences throughout the world for nearly three generations, and in the spirit of this show, they have certainly left their impactful mark upon show-business and Broadway.
Hosting the show is Disney veteran Richard Kind, well known best to Disney fans as Bing Bong from Inside Out, and Uncle Monty in Tangled: The Series amongst other productions, as well as the co-host for the second show, Griffin Newman, known for his role on Amazon Prime’s The Tick. These two are not only hilarious and make for excellent hosts, but the two of them have a bit of a history with The Muppets. Richard Kind guest-starred twice on Sesame Street, which he worked into his monologues as well, hosting the entire show in both of the goofy costumes he wore at each guest appearance. Griffin Newman on the other hand is a lifelong die-hard Muppet fan, who’s knowledge and fandom would put anyone else’s fan status in question. Newman also shared a fun piece of trivia about himself to prove his Muppet fandom. Spending an endless amount of time collecting the Palisades Muppet figures, he would often spend much of his time on the Palisades online forums, to the point where the company gave him an honourable mention on the Pigs in Space collectible pack.
The show mainly focused on classic Muppet material across the Henson-sphere, from The Muppets to Sesame Street to Fraggle Rock and Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas. Taking the stage to perform these gorgeous songs were Muppet performers and Broadway veterans, Stephanie D’Abruzzo (Sesame Street’s Prairie Dawn) Jennifer Barnhart (Sesame Street’s Zoe) Rick Lyon (Avenue Q), Nik Walker (Hamilton) Natalie Walker (Cabaret) Ari Wilford (Once) Ashley Perez Flanagan (The Great Comet) Noel Carey and Julia Mattison (Brooklyn Sound) and Monet Sabel (Sweeney Todd). The show began with the classic theme of The Muppet Show with a quick interlude to Can You Picture That? from the legendary classic, The Muppet Movie.
Continuing on with the Disney-owned side of Henson’s properties, Natalie Walker took the stage to perform a spectacular rendition of I’m Gonna Always Love You, from the 1984 classic, The Muppets Take Manhattan, followed by Monet Sabel’s performance of ‘Barbeque’ a song from the Henson classic, Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas. Muppet performer Stephanie D’Abruzzo took the stage next and introduced the song from what which she believes is the greatest Muppet movie ever made, The Great Muppet Caper. The song, of course, is the Academy Award nominated, The First Time It Happens. Somehow, Stephanie took an already gorgeous song and brought it to life in a spectacular new way.
Following that, the show quickly shifted gears to Sesame Street, where Nik Walker began his fantastic performance of It Feels Good When You Sing a Song, followed by Noel Carey and Julia Mattison on their absolutely hilarious performance of The Muppet Movie’s road-trip duet, “Movin’ Right Along”. On the more obscure side of music selections that will surprise most fans, the next lineup included Dixie Wailin’ from Fraggle Rock as well as ‘Bring Back the Wonder/Sail Away’ by Ari Wilford and Ashley Perez Flanagan. It’s difficult to put into words how well these two nailed their songs, that can only be understood by listening to it below.
Jennifer Barnhart then performed an absolutely stunning rendition of the already mesmerizing song, When the River Meets the Sea from Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas. Jennifer has a history with both Henson and Broadway, and her performance of this song truly shines out beautifully. Next, Rick Lyon debuted a replica puppet of Gonzo the Great to perform ‘I’m Going to Go Back There Someday’ from The Muppet Movie. Gonzo himself is probably somewhere in Hollywood, but he’d certainly be interested to hear that there’s a ‘puppet’ that looks just like him out in New York. The final two acts include a performance of the Academy Award-winning ‘Man or Muppet’ from the 2011 film, The Muppets, and a closing performance of Rainbow Connection that featured the entire cast.
All in all, the latest performance of 54 Celebrates The Muppets created a spectacular celebration that is sure to delight anyone who has ever been touched by the magic of Jim Henson and his creations. This once-in-a-lifetime experience brought together a beautiful performance that brought the already impressive music of the Muppets to life in an all new way. It’s unclear if the Feinstein/54 Below team will be putting on another performance of this show, but should you ever get the opportunity to see this show live or any of the 54 Below’s other phenomenal performances, it will certainly be worth your time. Until then, feel free to experience the highlights of this wonderful show with our audio recording of the entire event. In addition, keep an eye out at our sister site, The Muppet Mindset, for even more in-depth coverage and media later this week!