Review | Send it back to Sesame Street

Photo courtesy of Sesame Street

I approach “Sesame Street: The Musical,” which just opened Off-Broadway at Theatre Row, as both a theater critic and as a father of a two-year-old girl and five-year-old boy, who both joined me at the show and are clearly its target audience. (Even toddlers less than 12 months old can attend by sitting in a parent’s lap – for an additional $10 fee.)

In recent years, I have attended my fair share of live kids shows, including “Sesame Street Live!,” “Paw Patrol Live,” “Disney on Ice,” Laurie Berkner concerts, and earlier productions of Jonathan Rockefeller, the author and director of “Sesame Street: The Musical,” which have included puppet shows based on other well-known pieces of intellectual property such as “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” “Paddington Bear,” and “Winnie the Pooh.”

Two things distinguish “Sesame Street: The Musical” from “Sesame Street Live!”: the size of the venue (a small Off-Broadway theater rather than the massive Theater at Madison Square Garden) and the way the Sesame Street characters are displayed (with puppets, as on the TV show, rather than full-body costumes).

Don’t be fooled by the title. “Sesame Street: The Musical” is not so much a new musical but rather a 60-minute skit in which familiar Sesame Street characters (brought to life by unseen puppeteers and a prerecorded soundtrack) perform familiar songs from the TV show (i.e. “C is for Cookie,” “Rubber Duckie,” “I Love Trash”) plus some inferior and forgettable new ones. There is also a tedious through-line about recruiting an audience member (technically an actor pretending to be an audience member) to be a special guest star.

Rockefeller’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show” (in which young actors brought to life the stories of Eric Carle) was an ideal introduction to live theater for children. Since then, his shows have become more commercial and bloated and less imaginative and original. At this rate, his next show will probably be “Peppa Pig.”

It is unfortunate that the show does not give out playbills, if just to provide children with a simple souvenir. Instead, children are instead encouraged to ask their parents to purchase a program or plush toy.

The best part of “Sesame Street: The Musical” is the theater lobby, which has been covered with posters of the characters in parody versions of Broadway musicals. A “Sesame Street” musical made up of those same parodies (not unlike the movie parodies starring Cookie Monster on the TV show) might have been fun.

My children found it mildly enjoyable, but no more or less than “Sesame Street Live!,” the various shows at Sesame Place (including “Elmo the Musical Live!”), or the TV show itself. Rather than create something special or memorable, the creators settled for a rehash of the same puppet designs and character voices. The kids deserve better.

Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St., sesamestreetmusical.com. Through Nov. 27.

More from around NYC