Goodspeed's Emmet Otter, with Reichard (and Puppets), Begins Dec. 7

By Kenneth Jones
December 7, 2008

The world premiere of the family-friendly musical Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas begins Dec. 7 at Goodspeed Opera House, with Broadway's Daniel Reichard, Alan Campbell, Lisa Howard, Cass Morgan, Kate Wetherhead and more, sharing the stage with puppets.

This is a new stage version of Jim Henson's holiday-season television special, based on the book of the same name. Christopher Gattelli (Altar Boyz, Broadway's South Pacific, Sunday in the Park With George) is the director-choreographer and co-librettist.

It plays the mainstage of the Tony Award-honored Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, CT, to Jan. 4, 2009. Official opening is Dec. 17. Expect it to be an annual production there. (Given the high-profile creative team involved, a wider regional life for the show would not be unexpected.)

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The stage musical is based on the book "Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas" by Russell and Lillian Hoban and the all-puppet HBO special of the same name produced and directed by the late Henson. This production represents a unique collaboration between Goodspeed Musicals, co-book writers Timothy A. McDonald of iTheatrics and Christopher Gattelli, Paul Williams (Happy Days: A New Musical) who wrote the music and lyrics, and The Jim Henson Company.

According to Goodspeed, "As Christmas approaches the world of Frogtown Hollow, Emmet Otter [Reichard] and his Ma [Morgan] can only dream of buying each other gifts. So when a Christmas Eve talent contest is announced, both secretly enter hoping to win the prize money. In a heartwarming twist on 'The Gift of the Magi,' Emmet and Ma risk all they have and end up with the greatest grand prize of all."

Campbell (Broadway's Contact, Sunset Boulevard) plays Pa Otter, Kate Weatherhead (Legally Blond and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) plays Jane.

Reichard received a Drama Desk Award nomination for his role in Broadway's Jersey Boys. Broadway veteran Morgan's credits include Mary Poppins (original Bird Woman), Beauty and the Beast, Ring of Fire and Pump Boys and Dinettes.

The ensemble includes Stephen Bienskie as Stan Weasel; puppeteer and puppet captain Tyler Bunch; Kevin Covert as Mayor Fox; Leo Daignault (Avenue Q) as Chuck; Madeline Doherty as Mrs. Mink; Colin Hanlon (Broadway's Rent) as Fred Lizard; Jeff Hiller as Charlie; Lisa Howard (South Pacific, ůSpelling Bee) as Mrs. Fox; puppeteer Anney McKilligan ("Sesame Street"); Sheri Sanders as Heddy; Robb Sapp (Wicked, Zanna, Don't!) as Wendell; plus James Silson and David Stephens (puppeteers). The swings will be Matthew Furtado and Kristin Feeney.

The creative team also includes Tony Award-nominated set designer Anna Louizos, costume designer Gregg Barnes, lighting designer Brian MacDevitt, music supervisor Michael O'Flaherty, music director Larry Pressgrove ([title of show]), assistant music director William J. Thomas, music arranger Gregory M. Brown and orchestrator Dan DeLange.

McDonald (co-book writer) is an educator and playwright (Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka, The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley). He is the founding chairman of the New York-based educational musical theatre consulting firm iTheatrics, which partnered with The Jim Henson Company for the initial development of the musical stage version of Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas. Gattelli (director, choreographer and co-book writer) choreographed Goodspeed Musicals' developmental production of 13, which is currently on Broadway.

Jug-Band Christmas is produced in association with The Jim Henson Company, with co-CEO Brian Henson spearheading the project on the company's behalf. The Jim Henson Company has been in family entertainment for over 50 years, and is internationally known for such productions as "The Muppet Show," "Fraggle Rock," "Labyrinth" and "The Dark Crystal."

Songwriter Williams is represented by the national touring production of Happy Days, the musical based on the hit TV series. He has written the music for many Henson projects, including the songs for the award-winning original HBO "Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas" special as well as "The Muppet Movie" featuring the hit "Rainbow Connection." He is an Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe-winning songwriter.

Goodspeed Musicals' executive director Michael P. Price stated, "Emmet and Ma's story of giving is one we are excited to share with audiences. The wonderful music, charming characters, and a cast of 18 exceptional performers will make for a festive celebration for all ages. Looking to the future we hope Christmas at the Goodspeed Opera House will be an enduring holiday tradition."

This is the first holiday-specific production created by Goodspeed Musicals, although there have been some productions that have played during the holidays there. Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas is a special production that is not part of Goodspeed's annual three-show season.

For more information call (860) 873-8668 or visit www.goodspeed.org.