Top 10 Songs of… Muppets “Unsung Heroes”
Kieran Moore- Sad to say we are coming towards the end of this series of top 10 Muppeteer charts (don’t panic, we aren’t done yet), so I thought now would be a good time to list some of the best musical performances from those Muppet performers who don’t quite have enough material to fill a chart of their own. There seem to be a whole host of reasons why some Muppeteers just don’t have 10 songs to rank: for some it seems to be a lack of a signature character, for others it might be that their “day job” is away from The Muppets or in a more backstage role and for a few it seems to simply be down to a shortage of time served. One thing is for sure – it isn’t down to lack of talent. I’ve titled this chart “Unsung Heroes” as it seemed like a fun fit, but every single one of these performers can sing very well indeed. Two of these Muppeteers were in line for their own chart at one stage or another and both were dropped due to lack of material so I’m really happy to be able to give them their dues now. There are some classics on this chart so let’s get on with it!
10 – Brian Henson: She Blinded Me With Science – Dr. Phil Van Neuter and Cast – Muppets Tonight
It feels a bit mean having a Henson in the number 10 position, but there’s some great stuff to come. For my money, performance-wise Brian does his best work away from The Muppets with characters like Hoggle (“Labyrinth”) or Dog (“The Storyteller”). Behind the camera, I think his direction of “Muppet Christmas Carol” and “Muppet Treasure Island” was exceptional. On that score, he is a chip of the old block as the saying goes. I think “Muppet Christmas Carol” in particular is a work of beauty, and I’m not sure at that precise moment anyone other than Brian could have delivered it better. Brian had two stand out characters from Muppets Tonight: Sal Minella and Dr Phil Van Neuter, and we looked at Sal (and his relationship with Johnny Fiama) on the Bill Barretta chart so I’ve selected this Dr Phil numberto represent him here. It’s slapstick at its best and allows Brian to show off his great talent for comedy.
9 – John Kennedy: The Man With The Bag – Floyd Pepper and Animal & Zoot – A Green & Red Christmas
I could probably spend the rest of this article discussing John’s performance here as Floyd (and on a wider scale, recasts in general) and it’s true to say that having compiled my Jerry Nelson chart so recently you can definitely hear the differences between the two. In my humble opinion though, this is pretty good (there are several moments that are spot on). What I really like about this song and John’s performance is that it feels like a Floyd Pepper song. We all have to acknowledge that as performers change, their characters are going to change as well, but as long as the essence of that character remains then that’s the main thing. This is hip, happening, shows musical integrity and has a nice streak of irony running through it which sounds like Floyd to me.
Every time I watch something from Animal Jam I fall in love with the show a little more. It’s got brilliant humor, fun characters and seems perfectly aimed at young children whilst not forgetting that parents are likely to be watching too. It’s the hallmark of all the best children’s shows. Waffle is a great guy and his country twang is adorable. It’s no surprise to read that Rickey resides near Nashville with musical performances like this under his belt. This song has a fun country/rock n roll feel and Rickey’s vocals just work so well in that style. They are full of characterization and I feel I could write a whole synopsis for Waffle just from listening to this song.
Pam Arciero has a Masters in Puppetry from The University of Connecticut and has a list of puppetry credits, both for and away from The Henson Company, as long as your arm. She has been involved behind the scenes and in front, and all of that experience shows in this performance. It’s the little touches that really are the mark of a master Muppeteer and this is full of them with little gestures and movements even when she’s not singing. There’s a country feel to this chart currently (after the last song) and this continues it with a fun vocal from both Pam and Caroll Spinney. I wish we saw more of Grundgetta, her relationship with Oscar is a lot of fun. Perhaps it’s time Oscar made an honest Grouch out of her by proposing. I’d love to see him with a fiancée!
This song gets to pull double duty and highlight both John Tartaglia and Stephanie D’Abruzzo which means I can cheat and include 11 Muppeteers in this chart! Both John and Stephanie were Tony-nominated for their roles in the original Braodway cast of “Avenue Q” (with John winning), so this song suits them perfectly. It’s full of fun fist-clenching over singing that would sound terrible from less accomplished singers. Sesame Street is famous/notorious for its pop-culture parodies and this one nails “High School Musical” perfectly. It even gets in a few digs at the end with the announcement of the huge list of upcoming spin offs. John & Stephanie perform several songs together on Sesame Street (see also: “Brothers and Sisters”) and you can tell that they know exactly how the other one works. They sound comfortable together and that really transfers into a pleasant experience for the listener.
5 – Ryan Dillon: Hello, Halloween! – Elmo and Abby Cadabby – Sesame Street Web Video
And here we have another supporting vocal from Leslie Carrara-Rudolph (after her solo in the previous song)! I’m going to go ahead and say it – I think I prefer Ryan Dillon over Kevin Clash as Elmo. I realise that’s a bold statement. I was never an enormous fan of Elmo, but I find him less abrasive now. Certainly his voice is less harsh (it used to go right through me before) and I appreciate its softer tones. I’m also enjoying “The Furchester Hotel” here in the UK and that’s helping me see a different side to Elmo too. It must have been a daunting task taking over one of the world’s best-known characters but even at the tender age of 26, Ryan has 10 years of Sesame Street experience behind him. Jim had a great ability to spot young talent (both Frank Oz and Richard Hunt were teenagers when they started working with him) and the trend seems to be continuing in his absence.
4 – Camille Bonora: 14 Carrot Love – Polly Darton and Benny Rabbit – Sesame Street
I’ve always loved Polly Darton and her appearance here as performed by Camille means I get to play another country song! This is short, but most definitely sweet and makes me wish we could get the chance to see and hear more from Camille someday. It’s a great country vocal that would stack up against an awful lot of the professional singers who are working and recording currently. As an all-round performer, Camille has also appeared in cameo roles in Henson productions twice including an almost unseen moment in episode 12 of “The Jim Henson Hour”. In this song, I love the way Polly guilt trips Benny into giving up his carrot so that she can sing. They make a great double act and I can’t keep from tapping my toes while this is playing!
3 – Joey Mazzarino: Veg Side Story (Zucchini) – Tony – Sesame Street
Joey Mazzarino is arguably best known for performing Sesame Street’s Murray Monster. It’s fair to say that Joey is one of Sesame Street’s MVPs currently, not just because of his work in front of the camera, but also because he also acts as a screenwriter for the show. He’s currently (at time of writing) nominated for three Daytime Emmys (one as a performer, two as a writer) and he even wrote this song which makes its inclusion doubly perfect! He sounds a little like Mike Wazowski from “Monsters Inc.” here so maybe if Disney ever take that movie to Broadway they could give him a call! Musically. there are moments in this song that remind me of “He Makes Me Happy” from “Muppets Take Manhattan” so that’s neat too!
2 – Tyler Bunch: Words Are Here, There and Everywhere – Buzz Word and Elmo & Abby – Words Are Here, There and Everywhere
I think this is a great song! And Buzz is such a fun looking puppet. He sort of seems like he’s been made from the disparate bits and bobs that were lying on the puppet builder’s table, but he’s bright and eye-catching and works great against the vibrant colours on screen. There’s another appearance from Elmo and Abby here which shows just how important they are to Sesame Street at the moment. This is yet another fine example of how the show uses music to teach important lessons whilst being entertaining and Tyler has a brilliant voice and his vocal performance has just the right mix of enthusiasm and authority to get the message across. There are shades of Ernie in the puppeteering, especially in the hand movements, and that just makes me smile even more!
As amazing as all of the other songs on this chart are there was never really any question that this would be number one here. Not only is it truly awesome, it’s the song that finally won The Muppets and Oscar and as such is an instant classic. Hilarious and heartfelt, it’s arguably got to be one of the most singable songs in the Muppet canon. I know I’ve performed it at my desk, in the car, in the shower, on the 8:20 train to Banbury (yes, Banbury is a real place – I live there! Incidentally Busch Gardens Williamsburg has a Sesame Street land and a land named “Banbury Cross” after a local monument here. I know you don’t care, but it’s cool for me!) Anyway… Peter is kind of a real life Walter in a way as he was a fan of The Muppets as a child and then went on to become one (kind of). He’s been performing with the gang for years and has had a few standout characters, but surely none on the scale of Walter and it’s great to see him getting a moment in the spotlight here. As this song shows he’s an excellent singer and the way he manages to portray Walter’s angst in this song, and throughout the film, is very, very well done.
So there we have it; a ragtag round up of some of the “Unsung Heroes” of the Muppeteer gang. It seems fitting to end on a performer who sung the Muppets to awards glory. There are (literally) a ton of performers who haven’t gotten a mention here and I want to say that if you are or have been a Muppeteer and you’re not on one of these charts, that it wasn’t because you didn’t deserve to be, I just ran out of room (or you didn’t sing much – you know who you are). Either way, it should go without saying that you’ve brought the world countless memorable moments, whether they be joyful or heartfelt or simply about the number three. It should also go without saying that without you the world would be a darker, more miserable place for adults and children. So in that case it should really go without saying that for all of this, the human race (and me) owes you a big “Thank you”. It should go without saying, but I wrote it all down here just in case you weren’t sure! Thank You!