The furry, primary-colored, people-sized stars of Sesame Street Live aren't stiff and phony-looking like the hydraulic animals at Chuck E. Cheese's; nor are they the disfigured, quasi-hallucinogenic nightmares of a Sid and Marty Krofft TV show.
They're Muppets done large, with bug-eyed faces, groovy clothes, silly voices and charming personalities familiar (and comforting) to preschoolers everywhere.
And Sesame Street Live, which comes to the Savannah Civic Center for five performances Friday through Sunday, is a big, bright and loud stage show - "Broadway style," it calls itself - that makes good use of the time-tested "Sesame Street" manifesto of teaching and entertaining at the same time.
The 2009 production, "Elmo Makes Music," includes exactly one non-costumed character: She's Jenny, an enthusiastic new music teacher, who arrives on Sesame Street only to discover that her case of instruments is missing. The Muppets - everyone from Big Bird to Telly Monster to, of course, Elmo - rally around and have a ball discovering "instruments" they never knew existed (rubber duckies, trash can lids and cookie jars among them). The lesson, of course, is that music is where you find it.
FYI for parents: "Elmo Makes Music" is 90 minutes long, including one 15-minute intermission.
Now in its 29th season, Sesame Street Live is officially licensed by Sesame Workshop (formerly Children's Television Workshop) and uses the "real" Muppet voices for the dialogue and songs (it's all pre-recorded). Inside every costume is a professional dancer/actor, who can see through a small hole somewhere in the character's face - or, in the tallest costumes, in the back of the mouth.
Jamie Lyn Critelli, 27, is in her third year with the cast. In most shows, the native of Buffalo, N.Y. "plays" Prairie Dawn, the wise-beyond-her-years 7-year-old, but she's also an understudy for Rosita, and Zoe ... and Elmo himself (that's because Critelli is petite and can fit inside the somewhat interchangeable "small" costumes).
Isn't it frustrating, as a performer, to be out there giving it your all, and nobody can actually see you?
Jamie Lyn Critelli: From a performer aspect, you just love being onstage. You love entertaining families and making people smile and laugh. So from that perspective, it's always so self-rewarding. You should see the children's eyes light up - they get so excited. It's an exciting experience all around. To do Sesame Street Live, you're traveling across the country, performing in all these amazing arenas and theaters. So it is a performer's dream. Granted, they don't see me but I still love what I'm doing.
So if you're sitting next to a family in a restaurant, and the kids are chattering away about the great show they just saw, they wouldn't recognize you ...
Jamie Lyn Critelli:They wouldn't! But at the same time it's kind of exciting, because you know it's you. I know they're talking about a show that I was a part of. I don't need them to remember me.
Those costumes are pretty bulky. Aren't you just thinking about not tripping the whole time?
Jamie Lyn Critelli: Honestly, any costume you wear is always an adjustment. I did have to adjust to every costume I've worn. The more you do it the more you just become accustomed to everything, and you really learn the ways of your costume so that you don't worry about that any more.
All the music and dialogue are on a pre-recorded track. If you screw up, the tape keeps going. And you've all got these big things on your heads. How do you communicate with the other actors?
Jamie Lyn Critelli: It's more or less just moving as a group. Because you're a team - all of the Sesame Street Live Muppets, we work as a team, so we're able to follow each other's leads, and work together to make a successful performance. So really, the more that we perform together, the easier it is to get our groove together. To make the show the best that it can be.
If an actor drops a line in a play, the others can cover. With this thing, nobody ever drops a line!
Jamie Lyn Critelli: (laughs) It's true, but still, you can fumble sometimes, and that's why we're all there working with each other. So just in case that happens, we can all help each other out so it isn't noticeable. We do work well together in that aspect.
You're usually in the Prairie Dawn costume. Have you ever been called upon to do one of the other characters?
Jamie Lyn Critelli: Yes, I have. I've actually gotten to perform all my Muppet understudy roles ... which is so exciting. Elmo is the rock star; he is the star of every show, including Sesame Street Live. He's "Everybody's Favorite Furry Red Monster."
Sesame Street Live: "Elmo Makes Music"
Where: Savannah Civic Center, Martin Luther King Arena, 301 W. Oglethorpe Ave.
When: 5 shows May 15-17
Cost: $12-$25 ($10 tickets available for opening night only)
Info: etix.com, (800) 351-7469