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A CurtainUp Connecticut Review
Jim Henson's Emmet Otter

A person's got to take some chances or life will never come to nothing — Ma Otter quoting Pa Otter.
Emmet Otter
Justin Bohon and Kathy Fitzgerald
(Photo: Diane Sobolewski)
An O-Henry-like story, lots of humor and puppet magic all combine to create a wholesome, fun-for-all-ages production in Jim Henson's Emmet Otter. playing its second year as the Christmas offering at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam. Christopher Gatelli, co-writer of the book with Timothy A. McDonald, skillfully helms the multi-faceted production as well as choreographs actors and puppets alike in a delightful story based on the popular children's book Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas by Russell and Lillian Hoban, and a television special by the same name directed by Jim Henson and written by Jerry Juhl. The twangy, toe-tapping music and lyrics are by PaulWilliams.

Jane (Connecticut's own Meg Guzulescu) and her dad, Russ (Stephen Bienske) awkwardly try to deal with each other on the eve of the first Christmas without Jane's mom, who has passed away. Russ over tries to create a fun holiday with decorations and terrible cookies, but Jane just wants to hang out with her friends. They find common ground when Russ finds a copy of Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, which Jane's mom used to read to her. Suddenly the pages come to life, thanks to the help of skillful puppeteers and actors amazingly clad as all manner of woods creatures (Gregg Barnes, costume design) on a fanciful set that even includes a replica of the opera house itself.

Money is tight in Frogtown Hollow, and Emmet Otter (Justin Bohon) and his Ma (Kathy Fitzgerald) have hocked most of their belongings following Pa's death and can hardly make ends meet using their two remaining possessions: Pa's toolbox which Emmet uses for odd jobs and Ma's washtub, which she uses to take in laundry. Suddenly, Doc Bullfrog offers $50 to the winner of Waterville's first talent contest, and Ma and Emmet both see a chance to buy the other a really swell Christmas present. Ma sells Emmet's toolbox to buy material to make a dress so she can sing in the contest and win the cash to buy Emmet the guitar he wants. Emmet puts a hole in Ma's washtub to play in a jug-band with the hopes of winning the money for a down payment on a piano for Ma. Eventually, everyone finds that the only gift that matters is having each other.

In a delightful side story that continues throughout the show, four squirrel puppets try to "hatch" a pine cone and grow a Christmas tree. Their acrobatic act is one of the highlights of the talent show, which includes a peeved possum, a foxy fox, a vamping mink and a River Bottom Boys Nightmare rock band with a snake and water-squirting fish members.

It's a lot of good, wholesome fun, with the youngsters giggling at the silly antics and the adults laughing outright as some of the corny humor. This year's version includes improved sightlines that allow the audience to see the puppet magic taking place downstage better.

Jim Henson's Emmet Otter
Music by Paul Williams
Book by Timothy A. McDonald and Christopher Gattelli
Directed and choreographed by Christopher Gattelli
Assistant Chorepgraphy: Ray DeMattis
Music Director: Larry Pressgrove
Assistant Music Director: Ian Schugel
Resident Music Director: Michael O'Flaherty
Music Arranger: Gregory M. Brown
Additional Arrangements by: Larry Pressgrove and Dan DeLange
Orchestrations: Dan DeLange

Cast: Jill Abramovitz (Mrs. Mink / Hetty Muskrat), Stephen Bienskie (Russ / Stan Weasel), Justin Bohon (Emmet Otter), Thomas Cannizzarro (Mayor Fox),  Kathy Fitzgerald (Ma Otter), Meg Guzulescu (Jane), Lisa Howard (Gretchen Fox), Stanley Bahorek (Charlie Muskrat), Scott Barnhardt (Wendell Porcupine), Jennifer Barnhart (Mme. Squirrel, Scattfish), Leo Daignault (Chuck Stoat / Doc Bullfrog), Matthew Furtado (Harvey Beaver), Anney Ozar (Old Lady Possum), James Silson (Howard Snake), David Stephens (Fred Lizard / Yancy Woodchuck/Pa Otter). Stanley Barnhart, Leo Daignault, Anney Ozar, James Silson and David Stephens (puppeteers), Jessica Elovsson and Graig Glenn Foster (swings)
Set Design: Anna Louizos 
Lighting Design: Brian MacDevitt
Sound Design: Jay Hilton
Costume Design: Gregg Barnes
Running time: 2 hours with a 15 minute intermission
Goodspeed Musicals, 6 Main Street, East Haddam CT
Performances times vary.
Tickets starting at $39 for children and $49 for adults. Goodspeed Box Office (860-873-8668) or on-line at
Dec. 5-Jan. 3, 2009
Review by Lauren Yarger based on performance of Dec. 19, 2009
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • The One Bathing Suit/Emmet and Ma
  • Waterville/Mayor Fox, residents of Waterville
  • At the Music Store/Mrs. Mink, Mrs. Fox, Will Possum, The River Bottom Boys, Emmet
  • Ain't No Hole in the Washtub/Emmet and Ma
  • When the River Meets the Sea/Emmet and Ma
  • Trust/Emmet and the squirrels
Act Two
  • Bar-b-que/The jug-band
  • Bar-b-que (reprise)/Ma, Hetty and the jug-band
  • Trust (reprise)/Jane and the squirrels
  • Alice Keep Dreaming/Pa Otter
  • Squirrel-batics/Madame Squirrel and the squirrels
  • Der Field Mouse/Beverly Badger
  • Bar -b-que/Yancy
  • Born in a Trunk/Mrs. Mink
  • Rabbit-tastic/George and Melissa Rabbit
  • Brothers/The jug-band
  • Squirrel-batics/Madame Squirrel and the squirrels
  • The amazing John Deer/John Deer
  • Our World/ Ma
  • River Bottom Nightmare Band/ The Nightmare Band
  • Brothers in Our World/ Ma, Emmet and the jug-band
  • When the River Meets the Sea (reprise)/the company
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