Henson legacy lives on in 'Stuffed & Unstrung' 

If you’re a certain age, you might have played with a Barbie or G.I. Joe when you were young. When Brian Henson was 7, he was playing with Kermit the Frog and Cookie Monster puppets ... and a camera was recording him for early episodes of “Sesame Street” directed by his father, Jim.

The younger Henson grew up with the family business and today serves as chairman of The Jim Henson Company, overseeing stage, film, television, video and game projects, plus a host of merchandising for the Muppets and other Henson characters.

A project close to his heart is “Stuffed & Unstrung,” a more adult look at the Henson milieu. So close, in fact, he’s made a rare commitment to appear in all 10 performances that begin Thursday at the Curran Theatre.

It’s improv, with adult content, involving 80 puppets and six puppeteers, including Henson. They play to onstage cameras, which feed to large onstage monitors.

“One of the cool aspects of the show,” Henson says, “is that the audience gets to see exactly how we do everything.” By that he means the Henson style of having puppets act for the camera.

He differentiates this show from “Avenue Q,” which recently had two Bay Area incarnations. “That’s a show where the puppeteers are actors and they are emoting the performance while manipulating the puppets,” he says.

“Quite honestly, we couldn’t do a show without the screens,” Henson says. “That would be so not in sync with our training, which is to not think about the puppets, not think about ourselves, but only think about a character on a screen and bringing it to life. It’s all about the camera.”

There was a taste of the show here in January, when Henson was interviewed by Neil Patrick Harris at Cobb’s Comedy Club and demonstrated some of the puppetry technique.

“Everything I experienced then tells me that San Francisco will be a great match for us,” Henson says.

Henson will also make a brief appearance at the Castro Theatre on Saturday to introduce a special 25th anniversary screening of the fantasy cult film “Labyrinth,” for which he provided the voice of Hoggle.

Working on “Stuffed” touches on a special memory for Henson of watching “The Muppet Show” being made.

“The guys would keep going between takes and it would get very blue and just side-splittingly funny,” he says. “That, to me, was the juiciest part and we’ve tried to capture that feeling and build a show around it.”

Stuffed & Unstrung

Where: Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays, 7 and 10:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; closes Aug. 27
Tickets: $30 to $65
Contact: (888) 746-1799, www.shnsf.com

About The Author

Robert Sokol

Robert Sokol

Robert Sokol is the editor at BAYSTAGES, the creative director at VIA MEDIA, and a lifelong arts supporter. Diva wrangler, cinefiler, and occasional saloon singer, he has been touching showbiz all his life. (So far no restraining orders have been issued!)... more
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