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Play With Me Sesame Mall Tour

Boo, get off the stage!

Annika and Stephen Abel (5-20-2002) - Toddlers and preschoolers overran the South Center Mall as Ernie, Bert, and Grover promoted Noggin's new series Play with Me Sesame at the first stop on the nine city mall tour.

Noggin, a joint venture between Sesame Workshop and Nickelodeon, is the commercial-free educational cable network geared primarily to preschoolers. Play with Me Sesame premiered April 1, 2002 and is the anchor show for Noggin's daytime programming. It is a half-hour interactive series that invites kids to play along using a mix of classic Sesame Street footage and new interactive segments.

The Play Date mall tour is basically a live version of the show. A stage was set up in the middle of the mall with a roped off area where kids and parents could sit. The stage mimicked a home, with a door and window. The show is approximately fifteen minutes long and was performed three times: at noon, 2 pm, and 4 pm

First, the host Gina came out and introduced herself. She invited all the kids to join her for a play date with Ernie, Bert, and Grover. Gina stepped down from the stage and talked with some of the kids about their favorite games and songs. As Gina talked, Ernie and Bert appeared in the window and the kids began to cheer. When Gina turned around, Ernie and Bert were gone. Next, they knocked at the door. Naturally, when Gina opened the door, they weren't there. This went on just long enough to amuse the two and three year olds in the audience. When Ernie and Bert finally came 'inside' Ernie led the crowd in a game of Ernie Says.

After Ernie Says, Ernie and Bert left and Gina talked with the kids for a minute or two. Ernie and Bert returned. Bert wanted to read his book, Super Pigeon. Ernie wanted to play pretend. So Bert read his story aloud and Ernie acted it out. Bert gave Gina a cape with a pigeon on it and she played Super Pigeon. Every time Bert said "Super Pigeon" Gina opened her cape and led the kids in shouting "coo coo ca coo." The story was about an Elephant who wanted to fly. Super Pigeon let the Elephant climb on her back and took the Elephant flying. After the story, Bert and Ernie left.

Gina talked to the kids about music and dancing and Grover arrived. Grover led the audience in a game of "Move and Groove with Grover." This got the kids up on their feet dancing a little. After that, Grover was tired and sat down. Ernie and Bert came back. There was time for just one more game so Ernie suggested "Ernie Says." Ernie said "Laugh like me" and everyone did their best "hee hee." Then Grover said "Groove like me" and everyone said "wubba wubba woo." Bert rounded it out by asking everyone to do the Pigeon with him. Then they put it all together and had the kids mimic each character in a row. They ended the show by having the kids shout "Sesame" every time they said "Play with Me." As the audience left, they were given goody bags.

The show was quite well done. The audience consisted mostly of kids ranging from 18 months to 4 years and it was definitely intended for that age group. Most of the kids had no trouble following the action and were able to participate in at least some parts. There were some tears whenever Ernie and Bert left the stage and when the show ended, but that's to be expected.

The older Muppet fans that make up most of the Muppet Central gang will probably not enjoy this show as much as the average three year old. But the show isn't intended for us grown ups and it shouldn't be. Personally, I thought it was great and my toddler adored it. She danced to the familiar Sesame Street songs before the shows started (we saw two of the three performances). She followed most of Ernie's instructions in "Ernie Says." She listened intently to Bert's story. And she danced through Grover's segment.

The Muppet voices were prerecorded in New York. It sounded like Steve Whitmire's Ernie. Bert sounded like Bert to me, but neither my husband nor I thought Grover was quite right. A new performer, Eric Jacobson is now doing Bert and Grover on the show. Not that the performance was bad, just to the tuned ear of a longtime Muppet fanatic it wasn't quite perfect. Additionally, during the first show, it was difficult to hear Grover at times. That sound problem was corrected by the second show.

The costumes were similar to, if not the same as, the costumes used for Sesame Street Live. Bert was by the far the best costume. Grover's long thin limbs are, of course, difficult to recreate in a human costume. Ernie was pretty good, but his head was a bit off. Maybe it was a little too football-ish in shape, or it might have been too low on his shoulders. Not that the kids minded.

The performers did a good job. I thought Ernie, performed by Joemarie Yososogita, was the best. Yososogita is a Sesame Place performer in Langhorn, PA. Russell Tucker of New York City performed Grover. Bert was played by Orlando, Florida performer Jason Murphy. Gina Rubino, the host, also resides in Orlando.

There were a number of little touches that made the performance a particularly nice experience for its prime audience. A roped off area for stroller parking was provided. This allowed parents to ditch their large, awkward vehicles and get down on the floor with their kids. It also meant strollers didn't take up valuable audience space in front of the stage. Playing Sesame Street songs like "Caribbean Amphibian," "Rubber Duckie," and "The Monster in the Mirror" gave the kids something to listen (and dance) to while they waited for the show to begin. Since people began filling in the spaces closest to the stage about an hour before each show, having something to entertain the kids while they waited was a great parent-saver. The goody bags provided an immediate distraction for children upset by the end of the show.

The goody bags contained an individual-sized box of Life cereal, small bottled water with a Sesame Street label, Sesame Street placemat, and adds for Play with Me Sesame and various kid-related products. The bag was a plastic draw-string with Grover, Ernie, Bert, and Prairie Dawn on it.

Before the first show we asked if we would be allowed to take pictures and mentioned we were covering the event for Muppet Central. The staff could not have been more helpful. They gave us a press pack, introduced us to the producer, and gave us information on the performers. Another first class Sesame production!

Here's the Play with Me Sesame Play Date mall tour schedule:

Seattle, WA April 6
San Francisco, CA April 13
Denver, CO April 20
Houston, TX April 27
Buffalo, NY May 4
Jersey City, NJ May 11
Philadelphia, PA May 18
Detroit, MI June 15
Los Angeles, CA June 22

For more information on the mall tour check out this press release. Play with Me Sesame can be seen on Noggin at 7:3 0 am, 9 am, noon, and 3 pm Eastern.


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