Thursday, June 05, 2008

What I've Learned from the Muppets: Telephone Rock

It's been a while since I did a "What I've Learned from the Muppets" article, but I just couldn't resist after watching some Muppet goodness last night. I received a late Birthday present this week of the Sesame Street Old School Volume 2 DVD, which features the classic "Telephone Rock." Besides being a catchy tune, this little song is a great example of progression in a puppet song and how it doesn't have to be big.

You'll never see this one on "Sesame Street" anymore. Not only does it take place in a telephone booth (what's a telephone booth) but the booth features a rotary phone. In this song, the green-skinned, orange-haired lead vocalist (performed by Jerry Nelson) goes into the booth and calls up the operator to sing the Telephone Rock. On the choruses he's joined by three backup singers who also cram themselves into the phone booth.

There are three choruses and something different happens during each one. For the first chorus the band simply sings while all stuffed into the same phone booth. This is funny enough by itself. For the second chorus, the three backups begin some choreography. They actually twist their bodies back and forth to the beat, which looks pretty funny in the tight space.

The third chorus is the part I remember so vividly from childhood, where the whole phone booth starts rocking back and forth to the music. Now these three things may seem like no big deal, but they each keep something new in front of the audience. Each chorus is funnier than the one that preceded it, even though the music stays the same. I often tell puppet team leaders that it's good to plan something different for each chorus of the song they are performing. Whether it's different props or choreography, keep something new in front of the audience so they'll stay interested. It doesn't have to be big. The Muppets pull it off here with just some subtle changes.

I can't forget to mention the big payoff at the end of the song where the operator (performed by Richard Hunt) tracks down the group and has the police carry them off, telephone booth and all. It's a memorable ending, which is another important element of a puppet performance. Brian Henson has admitted that often the Muppets ended things by either blowing something up or throwing penguins in the air. Strange yes, but memorable for sure.

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