Julie on Sesame Street

Julie and Kermit sing "Bein' Green".

Julie and Kermit sing “Bein’ Green”.

Soon afterwards, Julie comes up to him, leading into one of the special’s sweetest, most genuine moments, when the two sing “Bein’ Green,” or rather he starts off and then she takes over because he claims to have laryngitis, asking her if she’s heard the old joke of a frog “having a man in his throat”. And while I usually prefer it when Kermit is the one performing his signature song, Julie sings it with such tender grace, and Kermit’s reactions are infused with such love and warmth that it makes for a truly beautiful sequence. Not for an instant while watching did I fail to fully accept that these are two real, living beings sharing a moment together, ending on a lovely capper in which Kermit gives Julie a bouquet of flowers–which, in classic Muppet style, is immediately undercut a moment later when Cookie pops up from behind and devours them.


The next chunk of the show comprises most of the bad and/or boring and/or weird stuff, including the majority of the Perry Como material and Julie’s number-counting fever dream, until we finally come to the show’s true piece de resistance, which manages to be jaw-droppingly incredible and at least a few shades of wrong at the same time, because as I mentioned before, this is the bit where we get to see the Sesame Street Muppets in a very, very different context than we’re used to. At the outset, it seems innocent enough, starting off with a brief scene in which Bert, Ernie, and Biff–a Jerry Nelson-voiced construction worker character who joined the show in Season 5 and appeared regularly on the show until 1995–fawn over Julie. Clearly, Bert and Ernie have finally figured out who she was. The scene may be a little strange because there’s a vague undercurrent of Sesame-Street-Muppets-kinda-hitting-on-Julie-Andrews, but it still remains mostly pure, as well as quite funny.


Julie, Get Your Gun!

Julie, Get Your Gun!

They tell Julie that they’d seen her in all her Broadway shows but that they’d always had a problem with her leading men, such as Robert Goulet, Rex Harrison, and Richard Burton. “Face it, dear lady,” Biff pronounces, “you were carrying them…How’d you ever get stuck with those stiffs?” They then suggest that she would have been much better off had they been her leading men, the three then launching into a barbershop…trio? of “Give Our Regards to Broadway” before the show takes its zaniest turn yet, presenting a long fantasy sequence of brief parody bits from various famous Broadway shows, in most of which Julie is performing alongside the Muppets.


Now, the initial set-up doesn’t quite pan out as, oddly, none of the three guys in the framing device ever actually play love interests in the ensuing medley, but it is, nonetheless, fantastic Muppet material that, at the same time, might feel much more at home on The Muppet Show and with The Muppet Show characters than with the ones from Sesame Street, which makes it amazing, extremely entertaining, and incredibly WTF? all at the same time.


The is-this-really-happening? of it all sets in almost immediately when we get to the first number, “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly” from Annie Get Your Gun. For those of you who don’t know the show or the number, it’s, in short, a song that is very blatantly and unsubtly about sex. Annie Oakley is singing about how the country folk where she’s from may not know much but they do know how to pass the time and make more country folk.  And so on the surface level, we have the sheer OMG that is Julie Andrews dressed as a cowgirl and putting on an exggerated American Western accent, surrounded by similarly clothed Muppets, but then when you get to what they’re actually singing, it becomes even more holy-crap.


Julie sings to a "Big Spender".

Julie sings to a “Big Spender”.

For example, Julie sings the line, “You don’t have to know how to read or write/When you’re out with a feller in the pale moonlight…” and then Grover…Grover, of all furry monsters, responds, “You don’t have to look in a book to find/What he thinks of the moon or what is on his mind”!! Oh my god, Grover, do you even know what you’re implying?! I honestly never thought I would ever see a clip in which Sesame Street characters take part in a song that includes the line, “My tiny baby brother/Who’s never read a book/Knows one sex from the other/All he had to do was look”. Um, and One Million Moms in the twenty-first century are complaining about The Muppets?


And that isn’t even the most shocking part, which is when we get to “Big Spender” from Sweet Charity, which, if you don’t know, is a number about female prostitutes singing to potential johns, and here is about Julie Andrews, dressed as a high-class stripper, attempting to seduce Cookie Monster, who is too preoccupied with eating his plate, utensils, and wine glass to pay any attention to her, no matter how much she turns up her sultry allure. He eventually even grabs and gobbles up her shoes off her feet. Finally, she tricks him into eating a stick of dynamite and then a lit candle, exploding him from within, not unlike the coffee machine super computer from the early IBM film from when he still had fangs! But, again, let me reiterate: Julie Andrews. Playing a stripper-and-or-sex-worker. Attempting to seduce. Cookie Monster. Take a few moments to process that if you need them.


"I Feel Pretty"

“I Feel Pretty”

The rest of the Broadway material includes…


…a brilliant scene that would later be recreated for The Muppet Show, in which a beautiful young Anything Muppet lady sits in front of a mirror, singing West Side Story‘s “I Feel Pretty,” preparing for a date by removing all of her lovely facial features and replacing them with monstrous ones, until she ends up as a green, spiky-haired, harpyish witch with green eyes and fangs, probably the best bit being when the backing chorus sings “See the pretty girl in that mirror there” and she responds with the “What mirror, where?” bit immediately after she’d temporarily removed her eyes. The entire thing is a terrific, classically chaotic Muppety subversion of typical societal standards of beauty.


…a hilarious and very impressive “Shall We Dance?” from The King and I, in which Julie plays Anna and Snuffy, amusingly, one of the King’s “tiny” children, Lin Po, who she is trying to teach to dance on the King’s orders (the eponymous king briefly played by a bald Bert). Snuffy dances around with her so much in this scene that it’s really quite incredible. The motions are flawless and you never even stop to consider how difficult the illusion must have been to produce, mostly because you’re too busy being distracted by Julie’s billowing dress, Snuffy’s Siamese hat, and the simple fact that Julie Andrews and Snuffy are doing “Shall We Dance?”


"Shall We Dance?"

“Shall We Dance?”

…Biff, Bert, and Ernie singing “Fugue for Tinhorns” from Guys and Dolls, most famous for its “I got a horse right here, his name is Paul Revere…” refrain, and ending on the racing horses they’re betting on turning around and practically trampling them.


…and Julie and Big Bird doing “Give My Regards to Broadway,” with Big Bird at least once accidentally stepping on her feet, and another risque joke, when Big Bird turns around, and Julie lifts her hat to block his rear!


And then we close with everyone, including all of the main Muppets from the special and Perry Como, gathered around Julie for a rendition of the beautiful Sesame Street song, “Picture a World”. Once it’s done, each of the Muppets tells Julie they have to go, which they do, one by one. There’s no explanation as to why they have to leave at this exact moment, nor why they’re the ones who are leaving, given she’s the one who’s ostensibly visiting their street, and it actually leads to a rather slow, somber conclusion, ending on Julie all alone on the street, singing a melancholy rendition of Grover’s song, “What Do I Do When I’m Alone?” which is, of course, beautifully sung, but feels like a strangely downbeat ending to a Muppet special. I would’ve expected a big, happy number, maybe concluding with her hugging everyone goodbye and them waving her off…but Julie left all alone on a darkened Sesame Street after everyone inexplicably abandoned her? Very strange.


The finale.

The finale.

Before the very end, however, there is a very funny exchange in which Cookie bestows a flower upon Julie, which seems on some level to be his apology for eating the ones Kermit gave her earlier, and she acts genuinely touched…and then proceeds to eat the flower herself, prompting Cookie’s jaw to drop and said, “You’re my kind of girl!” Which reminds me a lot of something Animal would say, come to think of it. But anyway, it’s a great moment that totally subverts our Julie Andrews expectations and also would’ve been a much more fun bit to close the evening on. Oh, well!


But, anyway, a rarely seen special that encompasses classic moments, moments that are bizarre in a good way, moments that are bizarre in a bad way, and everything in between, but all anchored by one of the greatest musical theatre performers of all time, whose openhearted generosity of spirit and clear love for the Muppets helps largely hold the whole thing together, even in its less stellar moments. And you can watch it for yourself here!


And next week, I take a look at Jim and Kermit visiting The Tonight Show in early 1974 and then…can you believe it?!…the first Muppet Show pilot, The Muppets Valentine Show!


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