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Muppets for the mature crowd

'Stuffed and Unstrung' comes to Irvine Barclay Theatre for comedic improv show done with much-loved puppets.

December 21, 2011|By Heather Youmans, Special to the Daily Pilot
  • Highlights from "Stuffed and Unstrung."
Highlights from "Stuffed and Unstrung." (Courtesy Carol…)

Henson Alternative's off-Broadway comedy "Stuffed and Unstrung" isn't the kind of puppet show you might have grown up with.

Part of the Jim Henson Co. — which brought children "Sesame Street" and "The Muppets" — "Stuffed and Unstrung" is a puppet show for more mature audiences. It will return to the Irvine Barclay Theatre for six performances, stuffed with quick-witted improv and Muppets, all grown up.

Host Patrick Bristow, 80 Henson Alternative puppets, and six comedian puppeteers will present this series of live, 100% uncensored comedy-variety show for adults from Dec. 28 through Jan. 1. The lineup includes a special New Year's Eve show on Dec. 31 that will end with a live telecast from Times Square and countdown to midnight (EST) by the felt characters.

In 2010, "Stuffed and Unstrung" appeared off-Broadway at the Union Square Theatre. A revamped version of "Puppet-Up," renamed "Stuffed and Unstrung" for its New York debut, garnered rave reviews, including an "A-" from Entertainment Weekly.

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The cast features world-class comedian puppeteers associated with hit children's television shows and theatrical productions, including "Sesame Street," "Bear in the Big Blue House," "The Muppets" and "Avenue Q."

The show is a mix of improvised comedy sketches, songs and scripted recreations of vintage Jim Henson and Frank Oz comedy pieces that first aired on the "Ed Sullivan Show" and launched the Henson phenomenon.

Each show is unique in itself.

Aside from the minimal scripted material, most of the production is based on suggestions from the audience. During the course of the performance, the Henson comedian puppeteers make up the sketches on the spot, basing them on viewers' ideas.

"For certain improvs I'll ask for a relationship between the two characters, or a workplace, or something like that," co-creator Bristow said in a phone interview.

"Sometimes we do what we call spot improvs where I say, 'You tell me what do you want to see,'" he added. "And if they say, 'Clowns on fire,' then that's what we'll do! You never know what you're going to get and I try to make the audience feel as comfortable and unthreatened as I possibly can so that they'll participate and then they'll basically take over the show. And then I just become the ringmaster."

Audience participation is taken to the next level in two pieces, when audience members are brought up onstage.

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