Muppets wow Lisner’s young crowd

Local children and families got a behind-the-scenes look at how some of the most beloved Muppets on the popular television show Sesame Street come to life Sunday afternoon, at an event at Lisner Auditorium.

Characters Elmo, Abby Cadabby and Zoe, along with puppeteers Kevin Clash, Leslie Carrara-Rudolph and Fran Brill spoke about how they became involved with Sesame Street and answered questions from the audience at the event, which was sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution’s Discovery Theater and celebrated the show’s 40th anniversary.

“A lot of actors say that you should never perform with kids or dogs, because you will get upstaged every time. Well, try performing with Muppets,” said Sonia Manzano, whose character Maria is one of the only humans on the show. “I was happy to be able to write the show for two years in the 80s and early 90s.”

The panel spoke about the honor of working with visionary Jim Henson, creator of the show.

“I grew up watching Sesame Street,” said Clash, the voice behind Elmo. “But I won’t speak long because I know there is someone here you want to meet,” he said as he opened the duffel bag next to him. The audience began to cheer as the familiar big, red head and googly eyes of Elmo appeared out of the bag.

Elmo, Zoe and Abby Cadabby greeted each other among oohs and aahs from the children in the audience, many of whom were seeing the Muppets live and in-person for the first time.

Carol-Lynn Parente, the executive producer of Sesame Street, introduced two clips of the show. The first clip included highlights of Big Bird meeting Star Wars’ R2D2 and C3PO, and singer Nora Jones singing to Elmo. The second clip was a preview of the 2009 series, which began in November. This season will include first lady Michelle Obama, Jason Mraz, Jimmy Fallon, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kobe Bryant, and Adam Sandler.

Audience members young and old were eager to line up behind three microphones to ask questions. The panel and their muppets answered questions ranging from who makes the puppets to what is Elmo’s favorite show of all time. When an audience member asked where Big Bird and Cookie Monster were, Clash said they were “napping.”

When asked what his favorite thing to do on Sesame Street was, Elmo replied, “Elmo’s favorite thing to do is dance. If Elmo could have any other job, Elmo would be a teacher.”

At the end of the event, families were offered the chance to meet and take pictures with the Muppets. The line snaked up two staircases and into both the upper and lower lobbies of Lisner.

“I think it was a great idea, and a good event. I just think they needed more ‘kid time,’ ” said Michael Stroud, who graduated from the GW Law School and brought his family to the event. “It was pretty adult-focused, with a lot of adults asking questions.”

Despite the range of reactions from parents in the audience, the children who were lucky enough to meet and greet the Muppets were in awe.

“In the picture, Elmo was biting my ear!” squealed a 5-year-old from Rockville, Md.

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