The Broadway in Chicago webpage promoting the visiting show "Stuffed and Unstrung" at the Bank of America Theatre carries this warning in red: "This show is rated R and contains language and themes that are not intended for unaccompanied children under the age of 17."
So some people might be surprised that Brian Henson, son of the great Muppets creator Jim Henson and current chairman of the Jim Henson Company, is a "Stuffed and Unstrung" show co-creator with Patrick Bristow (who also serves as the show's emcee). "Stuffed and Unstrung" is billed as "Henson Alternative."
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"Stuffed and Unstrung"When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, June 12-14; 7 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 15 and 16; 7 p.m. Sunday, June 17
Where: Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.org.
Audiences these days are "more open to the idea of a puppet show for adults," Henson said during a telephone interview.
"In our show, we don't deliberately push it in a sort of naughty, dirty direction, but it is an improv show and what we set out to do was to make the funniest show we could make," Henson said about "Stuffed and Unstrung." "And what we found was you can't censor it. You need to be able to tell a story and perform it as if you were at a dinner party with all adult friends and not with their kids in the room."
But rest assured, "Stuffed and Unstrung" does not feature beloved "Sesame Street" or "Muppet" characters like Elmo or Gonzo mouthing off.
"We call these characters the 'miscreant puppets,'" Henson said, pointing out how the 90 puppets available to "Stuffed and Unstrung's" cast of six puppeteers and improvisers are drawn from lesser-known or minor Henson productions. "I'm trying to create a space for them that leaves a lot of space for the prime-time family audience to be big Muppet fans and the young preschool audience to be 'Sesame Street' fans."
In fact, Henson and Bristow have incorporated other aspects to the show beside puppet improvisation. There are musical numbers and re-enactments of a couple of early scenes created by puppeteers Frank Oz and Jim Henson.
And then there's the fascination of just watching how the show is created. The puppeteers perform in front of a camera center stage, which captures a live-feed video that is projected onto two large screens. It's essentially the puppeteering-to-camera skill that has been a hallmark of the Jim Henson Company since it was founded.
"The audience can either watch the screens -- what the puppet show looks like -- or they can watch center stage and watch the puppeteers," Henson said. "The composing of the shots and the balancing of the frames is actually set by the puppeteers."
"Stuffed and Unstrung" has played the Chicago area in 2011 at College of DuPage's McAninch Arts Center in Glen Ellyn. But the show's official Chicago debut is making Henson and his fellow performers a little nervous since the Windy City is so famous for improv comedy.
"It's kind of a little daunting for us, but also very exciting and a long time coming since we've been wanting to come to Chicago for a while," Henson said.
But improv comedians don't have what Henson does -- skilled master puppeteers and the surreal situations they can create with puppets.
"If it's with a cow and a goat and a blue guy on frame and they're playing a scene, it's just funny and ridiculous," Henson said. "If one of the puppets runs out of things to say and it starts to get a little bit lost in the scene, it actually can be funny rather than painful. Even if you're the puppeteer holding that puppet up, you can start laughing at your own puppet."