Sesame Street Live has become horrible
Let me just say up front that I really enjoy any opportunity to spend time with my boys, Elliott and Oliver, who are almost (not quite) 2 and 4 years old. I have spent a lot of time with my children, and I am a connoisseur of children's entertainment. And Sesame Street Live has become unbearably bad.
Sesame Street is in my earliest childhood memories, as I'm sure it is in most of our memories. It helped me learn to read and count. As a child in the '70s, I remember being so frustrated that only Big Bird and I could see Mr. Snuffleupagus. And I've loved its music. I can breathlessly tell you about Stevie Wonder playing "Superstitious" (originally in 1973 but replayed many times) and the Pointer Sisters singing the Pinball Number Count songs in 1977. (A dollar says you'll be humming "One two three four five, six seven eight nine ten, eleven twelve" just like I am as I type this.) Everyone knows "Rubber Ducky." The show has been so popular with musicians that they'll parody their own songs on the show, such as 1991's "Furry Happy Monsters" by R.E.M., 2004's soulful "Don't Know Y" by Norah Jones and, possibly my favorite, 2012's "(A Monster Went and) Ate My Red Two" by Elvis Costello.
Sesame Street Live has always been a different experience. It was started in 1980 by the Vee Corporation, which licenses the characters from the Sesame Workshop. Sesame Street Live "Let's Dance!" just played at the Intrust Arena this past weekend.
Two years ago, we took Oliver to see Sesame Street Live "Can't Stop Singing" at the arena. Oliver was maybe a little too young to sit there for the whole thing, but it was based on a particularly good 2010 episode of Sesame Street wherein Elmo gets Abby Cadabby's magic wand (she's a fairy, if you are too young or old to be aware of this) and magically makes everyone on Sesame Street sing. (I assume that this was inspired by the 2001 episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Once More, with Feeling," where the gang fights a demon who makes everyone sing like they are in a musical. It's pretty awesome.)
So, a couple years ago, I sat there with a restless child watching a semi-decent musical, though one I had seen on TV many times before. It was OK.
This year, Sesame Street Live "Let's Dance!" is remarkably worse. It has two human hosts and a whole lot of familiar furry monsters running around and dancing. There is no plot, per se. It is supposed to be a collection of dream sequences set in the imaginations of Elmo and co. It had so little plot that I'm not sure why they bothered with any explanation. I assume that next year will be Sesame Street Live "Brownian Motion" and they will just have the characters imagining themselves in a cup of warm water. Well, that's probably too intellectual.
The humans explained from the stage that the kids were supposed to stand up to dance at certain points in the show.
I got the clue that it was going to be awful early on when Elmo dreamed up a bit where he was dancing to a greatly truncated version of Styx's 1982 hit, "Mr. Roboto." Elmo version doesn't use all the lyrics of the prog-rock opera about a man in a dystopian future using a hollowed out robot to escape from prison where he has been sent for the crime of performing rock 'n' roll. It didn't use anything but the chorus, but I couldn't help thinking, "I'm just a man whose circumstances went beyond his control."
Perhaps the show organizers have never tried to help children dance in stadium seating. Perhaps they've never tried to get a pair of toddlers up and down a flight of stairs in a dark arena. (I didn't even attempt it.) Perhaps they've never been held captive in a dark room while two grown adults lead a jazzercise routine with an array of monsters.
From my seats, I could barely hear the performance. It sounded like they were running the audio through a boombox behind the curtain. I've heard better fidelity from a neighbor's stereo on the other side of an apartment wall.
I assumed that the intermission 35 minutes into the show was so they could flip over the cassette tape.
The songs — most of which were from just about every point in time of the Sesame Street catalog — lacked the context that made those songs fun in the first place. And they were profoundly less memorable in this context.
Figuring out when the children should be up and dancing or sitting was impossible and practically the only thing that there was to focus on.
My beef here is not that my children weren't entertained; they were mildly entertained. My kids — like all kids — are pretty easily amused. They are not Siskel & Ebert.
But if my goal was to spend time with my children and have them mildly entertained, we could have gone to the park. We could have gone to the zoo. We could have gone to Exploration Place. We could have hung out in our back yard. All of those things are cheaper, just as entertaining (if not more) for them and — importantly — don't bore the hell out of me. I'm not asking for Les Misérables, but try to keep my attention.
Now, if you'll excuse me, one of my sons would like me to go watch Elmo's Potty Time with him. We are learning the finer points of using the bathroom for our poo poo and pee pee.