At The Fox: Beloved Characters, Dancing And Lots Of Merchandise

By Jenn McKee

At the risk of sounding stuffy, I couldn't help but watch "Sesame Street Live: Can't Stop Singing," now playing at Detroit's Fox Theatre, and feel my identity splintering into a (perhaps unholy?) trinity: theater critic, loving mom, parsimonious adult.

You can see the inevitable car crash coming already, can't you?

For "Sesame Street" is a beloved, iconic brand with more than 40 years of history, making it a children's entertainment institution that's been passed down through generations. The characters give kids - and the adults who grew up with them, too - a lot of joy. And in the end, you simply can't argue with the communal squeal of happiness that's heard when Elmo makes his first entrance in the middle of "Can't Stop Singing"'s opening number.

But then, when two awe-inspiring clouds of $10 Elmo/Cookie Monster balloons make a dramatic entrance from both sides of the theater, just as intermission starts, and cotton candy vendors sweep down the aisles, and light-up toys whirl in the hands of kids seated nearby, cuing your child to start begging desperately for one - well, then it all feels a bit calculated. (Not that this comes as a surprise, of course, but after paying a hefty parking fee, a money-conscious person is hardly in the mood.)

The show itself is built around a 2010 episode of "Sesame Street" called "Music Magic," wherein Elmo finds Abby's magic wand, and instead of returning it to her right away, he uses it to cast a spell that makes everyone sing constantly. Songs from the original television show segment - "Can't Stop Singing," "Shirt Shout" (a revision of Otis Redding's "Shout!"), "Yummy Yummy Porridge," and "Songs" - provide the show with its musical foundation, while other tunes that will ring familiar to faithful viewers ("Mouth Music," "Don't Give Up," "Elmo Didn't Mean To," "It's Raining Cookies," "Everybody's Song" and more) build upon it further.

Plus, attendees of a certain age will recognize Gloria Estefan's "Rhythm is Gonna Get You" and - pause for an obscure blast from the past - The Village People's "Can't Stop the Music."

So the show is a string of peppy, choreographed production numbers big and small, with costumed performers dancing to recorded songs. The volume's high, but so it must be in a big theater packed with young kids; and some minor lighting glitches (performers stepping out of the light too far downstage, or being shrouded in darkness at a number's start) will likely be ironed out as the Detroit run continues.

Yet with a running time of a little under 90 minutes, "Can't Stop Singing" is a bit long for squirmy toddlers. Call me cynical, but it feels as though - and this is the "stingy adult" talking - the show's creators deliberately extended the show in order to necessitate a 15-minute intermission, during which time parents could purchase various souvenirs, toys, treats, etc.

So I girded myself to say "no" repeatedly; considered what compromises we could all live with; and watched, moments later, as a balloon flew up to the Fox Theatre's ornate, high ceiling. (I pictured it as a 10 dollar bill, floating off into space.)

As a mom, I'll tell you that my daughters, ages 5 and 2, generally had a good time, despite growing restless as the show went on. They yelled to Abby in full voice, trying to tell her that Elmo had her wand; my 2 year old excitedly pointed to, and identified, her favorite characters when they first appeared on stage (though cries of "Elmo!" were nearly shouted in unison across the theater, of course); and the 5 year old followed the show's storyline with interest.

Ultimately, you just have to make the call about whether your child's potential enjoyment of the show will outweigh the inevitable "merch haggling" that's destined to occur. Godspeed, parents.


'Sesame Street Live: Can't Stop Singing'

Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Thursday-Sunday through Feb. 17, plus Wednesday, Jan. 29. About 90 minutes with intermission. $15-68. 313-471-6611.

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