1 The Muppet Mindset: Not Quite Muppets

Oct 4, 2012

Not Quite Muppets

Kyle Mahoney - Throughout history there have always been puppets, and although many strive to be as lifelike and beloved as Jim Henson's Muppets... they're just not considered Muppets. But many have connections to the Muppets, and although they aren't Muppets I feel like some of them deserve to have a bit of recognition here at the Muppet Mindset. So we'll take a few well known puppets and see how they're connected to the Muppets and how they aren't.

Audrey II - Little Shop of Horrors
This carnivorous alien plant first took root in 1982 in the off-Broadway musical Little Shop of Horrors. The plant was designed and manipulated by Martin P. Robinson (Telly Monster and Snuffy on Sesame Street) but was not a direct product of The Jim Henson Company. Several versions of Audrey II were made, from a tiny, dying bud to a full-fledged monster able to swallow a person whole!

Four years later Frank Oz would adapt the show into a film, his first non-Muppet production. The film would still utilize puppetry for Audrey II. As with the original production many different versions of the puppet were built, all of which used advanced animatronics. Although Henson did not have a hand in the project he did know many people who worked on the project, including his son Brian Henson who was a principle puppeteer for the plant.

In 2003 the show was revived on Broadway and once again Marty Robinson stepped in and built the puppets used. But this time The Jim Henson Company helped him out and was credited in the design. Other Muppeteers who became part of the production included Matt Vogel and Anthony Ashbury.

Yoda - Star Wars
Long ago in a galaxy far, far away... a little green man made English teachers cringe. In Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, we are introduced to the greatest Jedi master who ever lived, Yoda. A common misconception is that Henson built Yoda and not farther from the truth could that be. Yoda was actually built by Stuart Freeborn who worked for Lucasfilm. Altough Jim and George Lucas did exchange a few technological ideas, that was the extent of Henson's involvement on the project.

Frank Oz, on the other hand, took a much bigger part in the character's creation. Not only did Frank help design the puppet, but he is perhaps best known as Yoda's voice performer with assistance from Kathryn Mullen. Lucas was so impressed with Oz's performance that he put Oz's name in the possibilities for the category Best Actor in a Supporting Role at the Academy Awards.

When George Lucas created the prequels for Star Wars, Oz once again provided the voice but with the exception of The Phantom Menace, Yoda was done with CGI. Currently Oz does not perform the voice for Yoda in the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Tom Kane has taken over.

Avenue Q
In 2003 the Broadway show Avenue Q took puppets to a much more mature level, dealing with adult subjects. The play is meant to mirror the set-up of Sesame Street in that humans live amongst monsters and puppets in a New York City street. The puppets were built by former Muppeteer Rick Lyon through his puppet company. Although a bit of a legal dispute arose due to the similarities of the characters, the show was still put on with a fine print stating that the production is in no way affiliated with Sesame Workshop, The Muppets Studio, or The Jim Henson Company.

Lyon not only built the puppets but performed the characters Nicky, Trekkie Monster, and a Bad Idea Bear. Other Sesame Street performers joined him as well. John Tartaglia starred in the production as the characters Princeton and Rod, for which he was nominated for a Tony Award. Stephanie D'Abbruzzo performed Kate Monster and others and was also nominated for a Tony Award. Jennifer Barnhart took on a few roles and was an auxiliary puppeteer for when two characters played by the same performer were onstage or when a live hand puppet needed the use of both hands. The performance mimicked certain aspects of Sesame Street such as teaching new words such as Schadenfreude (happiness at the misfortune of others) and the idea of two very different people being roommates with Nicky and Rod.

So although they aren't Muppets or Henson creatures, let's tip our hats to these characters for being great works of puppetry that have just enough of a connection to Henson that we can talk about them with the same affection.





The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com

2 comments:

  1. Great post!

    I just went through my old Playbills this weekend and realized I saw Peter Linz in Avenue Q and another name that is escaping me at the moment in Little Shop in 03.

    I was like MUPPET HISTORY (kind of).

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  2. I love star wars and little shop the musical and the movie! I love it when steve martin comes in as the dentist aaaaahhhh!!!!!! Sorry fangirl moment. I love star wars like BIG FAN well I'm just a fan of a lot of things sssooo... but yeah... LIKE THE PERSON ABOVE ME SAID "MUPPET HISTORY" hugs and giggles ~maria

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