Music’s elite — everyone from Lady Gaga to the Cure to Queen — have graced the world-famous Hollywood Bowl stage in recent years. But perhaps none have received such a rock star’s welcome as the Muppets during their Bowl residency this weekend, playing their first-ever full-length live concerts. From the minute it was time to play the music and light the lights, each beloved character — Scooter with his ever-present clipboard and detachable Lennon spectacles, Rolf panting and pawing at his ragtime piano, Gonzo and his hen harem, Miss Piggy making a grand entrance held aloft by a troupe of shirtless Chippendales himbos, grumpy Statler and Waldorf heckling the proceedings during video-screened vignettes — elicited ecstatic shrieks usually reserved for flesh-and-blood performers, not felt ones.
And the Muppets, backed by the Hollywood Bowl orchestra and conductor Thomas Wilkins (who gamely participated in several skits and, like the night’s other human cast member, SNL comedian Bobby Moynihan, appeared to be having the time of his life), were rock stars, indeed.
Gonzo and his feathered lady-friends, Piggy, Animal, Pepe, Beaker, and Sweetums joined forces for a wonderfully bizarre take on Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Psych-rock legends Dr. Teeth & the Electric Mayhem, after four decades of playing with everyone from Alice Cooper to Miley Cyrus, impressed with a set that included Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros’ “Home” (reimagined as a bubble-headed Floyd/Janice duet); a Joe Cocker-inspired, choir-assisted “With a Little Help From My Friends”; and, most excitingly, a rollicking version of David Bowie’s “Suffragette City” with Animal pounding away like Woody Woodmansey himself.
And Miss Piggy, the self-declared star of the show, turned Adele’s “Hello” into a wacky Vegas number, even adding a parody of Adele’s stumble during the 2017 Grammys’ George Michael tribute. (Piggy stopped and restarted her performance, explaining, “I just can’t mess this up for Adele!”)
The 18,000 audience members of all ages were clearly delighted, but let’s face it: This show wasn’t really intended for the kiddos in attendance, but for their Gen X parents, who sat in the garden box seats grinning giddily as they relived their own childhoods over picnic meals and boxed rosé. Along with the many classic-rock song selections, there were plenty of grown-up in-jokes, some tailored for L.A.’s entertainment-industry crowd: a protracted sketch about copyright law (when the show dared to play some John Williams music during “Pigs in Space”); Rolf rattling off a list of local neighborhoods à la Randy Newman doing “I Love L.A.”; “The Walking Bread” and “Keeping Up With the Crustaceans” skits respectively starring the Swedish Chef and Pepe the Prawn; an iPhone-addicted Beaker getting beamed up to the Cloud, where he was “friended” by some IRL puppet trolls; and Kermit quipping, “It’s not easy being green-lit in this town!”
But unlike ABC’s recent Muppets reboot, which placed Kermit and company in an Office/Parks and Recreation-style workplace sitcom and received mixed reviews for its cynical storylines, the effect here was more like that of 2011’s unabashedly nostalgic Muppets film, which looked back at the late Jim Henson’s legacy with a wistful and often teary eye. “The Muppets Take the Bowl” never lost the heart of what made the ragtag Muppets so special, and it never sacrificed sweetness in an attempt to seem sophisticated.
Case in point: the grand finale, when 76-year-old The Muppet Movie soundtrack co-composer Paul Williams joined a banjo-plucking Kermit for a heartstring-plucking “Rainbow Connection” duet, followed by the rest of the Muppets for a group sing-along of “The Magic Store.” Kermit told the crowd, “Even though the Hollywood Bowl is a really big place, it’s starting to feel like home — a place where people and frogs and pigs and bears come together to share a special connection.” It was such a real and warm moment, even the most hard-hearted Bowl spectator surely suspended all disbelief and blithely ignored those black-clad puppeteers who’d been stealthily crouching on the Bowl stage floor all night long.
Below, check out Yahoo Music’s archival interviews with Dr. Teeth (when the Electric Mayhem debuted their live show with a 30-minute preview at last year’s Outside Lands festival) and Paul Williams (when he visited our studio with his new favorite band, Halo Circus).