Reviving Muppet mania: Next stop Broadway?

I’m always surprised when theater pops up in pop culture, more specifically, in popcorn movies.

Sitting at home, I was thoroughly enjoying Forgetting Sarah Marshall, a comedy written by and starring Jason Segel (of TV’s “How I Met Your Mother” – an admirable sitcom set in New York but none of the 20somethings ever goes to the theater!). Segel has something of a Jack Lemmon sad sack vibe that lends itself to poignant comedy. He’s also part of the Judd Apatow stable of actors, so his comedy is often taken in the vulgar, gross-out direction, and he’s good at that, too.

The surprising thing in Forgetting Sarah Marshall is that Segel’s character, the composer of tense music for a hit TV crime show, has been working for years on a “Dracula” musical. We hear bits and pieces of it throughout the show [SPOILER ALERT – stop reading because I’m going to discuss events at the end of the movie now] and at the end, Segel bursts out of his post-break-up depression by producing his Dracula musical…WITH PUPPETS!

Not only puppets, but puppets created by the Jim Henson Company, which technically makes them Muppets, which technically makes them awesome.

Real life and movie life intertwined here because it seems Segel actually had been working for years on a Dracula musical, and he also happened to be a huge Muppet fan in real life.

Though logic is in short supply in Hollywood, the folks at Disney took a meeting with Segel and figured out that he and Nick Stoller, the director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, were the right guys to reinvigorate the Muppet franchise, so they’re working on the next Muppet movie.

That’s all well and good, but what about a Muppet Broadway musical?

Avenue Q proved that audiences will happily watch humans interact with puppets while singing songs, and though the Muppets themselves created a Broadway show in the 1984 movie The Muppets Take Manhattan, we’ve never had the real thing. Those Disney people are supposed to be so savvy when it comes to marketing, but why haven’t the Muppets been on Broadway?

OK, so we’re one step closer to that with the development of the ultra-charming 1977 made-for-TV Muppet special “Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas” as a stage musical utilizing actors and puppets. The show has its world premiere Dec. 4 at Goodspeed Musicals in Connecticut.

If the show is wonderful (and how could it not be with songs by Paul Williams, who’s beefing up the already terrific score), perhaps that will be the necessary step toward bringing the big Muppet stars – Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, etc. – to the stage at long last.

For those in need of a fresh Muppet fix, we’ll have to wait until Dec. 17 when NBC airs “A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa,” a special starring Broadway stage veterans Nathan Lane, Jane Krakowski, Jesse L. Martin, Whoopi Goldberg and Richard Griffiths. Williams is contributing songs.

Here’s a clip from the Broadway spectacular “Manhattan Melodies” at the Biltmore Theatre, the finale from “The Muppets Take Manhattan.”

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