Disney Theatrical Prods. has quietly initiated early explorations of a live stage show featuring the Muppets, commencing late last month with a short but elaborate presentation directed by Alex Timbers.
The brief showcase, staged May 31 at Disney’s New Amsterdam Theater for a group of DTP staffers and a handful of others connected to the potential project, incorporated a handful of sets and more than 85 Muppets in an experiment intended to reveal whether it would even be feasible to present the Muppets in a live theatrical context, juggling puppetry needs with audience sightlines and all the other physical demands of legit theater.
“It was a test of concept,” said Thomas Schumacher, producer and prexy of Disney Theatrical. With the focus on the tech requirements of such an endeavor, a short selection of pre-existing Muppet material was performed. (Yes, Kermit sang “Rainbow Connection.”)
Timbers, the busy director (“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” “The Pee-Wee Herman Show,” “Here Lies Love”) whose upcoming gigs include “The Last Goodbye” in San Diego and “Rocky” on Broadway, told Schumacher he had come up with a concept for a Muppets stage show while they collaborated on Peter Pan prequel “Peter and the Starcatcher,” the 2011 Off Broadway outing that went on to win five Tonys in its 2012 Rialto transfer.
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Scheduling of the recent trial, which ran only 15 minutes, was timed to take place during a window of overlapping availability for Timbers, the New Amsterdam (currently dark in advance of the spring 2014 bow of “Aladdin”) and the actual band of puppets, following the filming of Disney’s “The Muppets… Again!,” on tap for a March release.
The Muppets presentation was one part of Disney Theatrical’s broad slate of development activities, with legit incarnations of “Shakespeare in Love” and “Father of the Bride,” plus a redux of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” among the titles that are far further along on the road to the stage.
It’s too early to say whether a project will develop out of the recent Muppets event. But according to attendees, the brief tryout seemed to go well, and a stage version of the Muppets seems a no-brainer given the high profile of the widely beloved Disney property.
For now, though, it’s just a possibility, if a promising one. “I’m very intrigued,” Schumacher said.