San Diegan stars in 'Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas' musical
Speaker 1: (00:00)
A television special that first aired on HBO in 1978 called emit Otter's jug band Christmas as returned as a theatrical production in Manhattan. The new musical is a 75 minute production running through Sunday, puppets and actors come together to bring this once television special, a friend take on stage. And one of the puppeteers and actors is from right here in San Diego. Jordan Brownley joined me to talk about the new production Jordan. Welcome.
Speaker 2: (00:30)
Thank you for having me.
Speaker 1: (00:32)
You graduated from Patrick Henry high school, right in Del sero. Tell us about your journey to become an actor in puppeteer.
Speaker 2: (00:41)
Well, I've been doing puppetry since I was about seven or eight years old. I was just a, a really big fan of the MOS and Sesame street bear in the big blue house. And, uh, you know, I just thought, you know, a can do it. Maybe I could try it too. And so I started building puppets and I taught myself how to sew and throw school. You know, there would be projects where we maybe build a paper, egg puppet, and I thought I can, I can do better than that. You know, like, come on, I can try. And I would build like a puppet out of fleece and foam, just like the MOS. And you know, at first, you know, some people think it's the odd, like when I building puppets where I what's the point of that, but I didn't really care. I just did it because I loved it. And, you know, from then on, you know, I did workshops and I got to meet people who work on these shows. I really love people. I really look up to and, you know, after doing a few of those, I eventually got the opportunity to audition for ETT O and lo and behold, I got the role and you know, I've been doing the show for a few weeks now.
Speaker 1: (01:36)
Well, congratulations to you on that, you know, for those who don't know, what is this musical about
Speaker 2: (01:42)
Out? So ETT OTs, ju band Christmas, it focuses on Emmett and ma Oder who live in, uh, Frogtown hollow and they're fallen on hard times, but they keep their spirits up. They love the thing and they love to be together. And, you know, they realize that they both want to give each other really nice gifts for Christmas, but they don't really have the money. Luckily there's a talent contest on Eve and the prize is $50, which to them is a lot of money and they realize that they could get the other really nice gift, but in order to do that, they have to give up something that the other needs to work. And so it's that idea of we have to sacrifice potentially our income so we can get each other it's nice gift. So they, you know, work on their respective summit forms, a jug band with his friends, jug band, Christmas and mahi works on her own song. And, and we get to go and see this talent show with everybody in town, putting together fun LA and, uh, I don't wanna give away the ending at all, but you know, it's really heartfelt story.
Speaker 1: (02:38)
You know, how is this musical different from other musicals?
Speaker 2: (02:42)
I, I think the main difference is, you know, the, their, their puppets throughout , you know, there, there are some shows of puppets, but it's really puppet heavy, uh, likely I get to be a part of that. There's some scenes where it's just these four squirrel puppets who are trying to grow Christmas tree from scratch and trying to decorate it. And that's a lot of fun and they're fun, little nods, the special too. So, you know, they're little jokes that people might get. And a lot of the characters and the special come back too, and are just in puppet form. Uh, I actually play doc bullfrog, who in the original special he's in it for a few moments, but this he's actually the narrator. So he pops up constantly throughout the show, steers the audience, the law with, you know, what's happening in the story.
Speaker 1: (03:20)
And why do you think producers decided to recreate this production as a musical 43 years
Speaker 2: (03:26)
Later? You know, what we've realized is that ETT daughter, though, it hasn't really aired a ton. You hadn't really aired on TV in a long time. A lot of people remember this very fondly. It has a really strong, uh, fan base, which is surprising, but you know, in certain social circles you can bring up Emett Otter and then somebody is just gonna freak out and go, my gosh, I love Emett oter we watch it every year. I remember my eighth grade trigonometry teacher loved Emett Otter and watched it every year with his kids. I I'm working on a couple other projects with his theater company and they're two bluegrass musicians and they, that people love some of the songs cuz they're bluegras you. So people really love the special. And so the idea of taking that and transla it to stage it works, you know, to have some of the characters, just be humans and costume, and then others as puppets, it's something that people are really nostalgic about and then they can share that with their kids or their friends. And, you know, we can keep this tradit and growing, even though it's a special that again, hasn't really aired on TV in decades. People really love it.
Speaker 1: (04:25)
There's a connection between Emmett Otter's jug band, Christmas, a new musical and the popular Muppet show. Tell me about
Speaker 2: (04:32)
That. Well, Jim Henson, he's the guy who he created the Muppets and he was sort of the leader of all these performer and artistic writers and directors and everyone who put together that show and, you know, right around that time, cuz Emma daughter's based on a book, he decided to turn the book into a TV special. And you know, he had a lot of the same people, a lot of the same builders and performers and writers involved in that project. They filmed it off in Canada and another really great connection was Paul Williams, who it was an amazing songwriter and performer in his own, right. He was asked to come and write the music from my daughter's ju band Christmas and the songs are fantastic and they're really sweet and wonderful. And, uh, Paul, you know, also was a guest on the Muppet show. He also wrote the music for the up at movie and the up at Christmas, Carol, uh, we actually got to meet Paul Williams, uh, during rehearsal. He's this sweetest, kindest man ever. Yes. He had a lot of the same people involved. He has that same spirit. Some, some puppets actually show up in both places too. If you look in the background, sometimes ,
Speaker 1: (05:31)
Uh, you know, everyone has had to work around this pandemic. How is that affecting the production? And did it change how you all had to rehearse at all?
Speaker 2: (05:41)
It did a little bit. Uh, one of the most interesting things about the process was that our director, uh, was never actually in the room, he's working on another project in England and uh, they had to do some reshoots for that. And so he wasn't able to join us. So he was directing over zoom a lot of the time. And we had another puppeteer and director, John Tartaglia, uh, who was stepping in sort of as our director at the time sort of framing, you know, how we were gonna do everything. Uh, and then, you know, we were masks all the time in rehearsal, we test constantly and you know, so that changed things a lot, you know, even the, the crew and they're backstage, they were wearing masks and I wear so you know, a different environment than what a lot of people are used to in theater, but you know, that's how we have to adjust. That's how we can, you know, keep the show going.
Speaker 1: (06:23)
Yeah. And so much went into this production. Do you see it returning every year? Now
Speaker 2: (06:28)
We certainly hope so. You know, it's, it's a really fun show and you know, we've gotten a lot of people who really enjoyed the show, kids and adults. We, we had, how else once that was, I think, mostly adult and that was some of the best laughter we got the entire run. Uh, so I think people really enjoy it. And you know, I, I, I think the idea is that this is a show that we want to happen every year. Uh, so we'll see fingers crossed, knock on wood, you know, we'll come back next year. And the year after that, you know, people keep coming to see it, which we hope they do.
Speaker 1: (07:00)
And for people who aren't in New York, is there a way to watch the musical before it leaves the stage on January 2nd,
Speaker 2: (07:07)
Actually. Yes. The new victory theater, which is where the show's play on their website, they have a streaming option, so people can, uh, get a streaming ticket for $25. They'll get a link to the show. That's be it for three days. They can watch the show. I calculated 54 times if they want , uh, the comfort of their own home, they can, you know, cast it to their TV, watch on their laptop. Yeah. So that's a really nice option for people. If they, you know, aren't able to come to New York or don't necessarily wanna come to the theater, they can watch it from their couch and they have until January the show. All
Speaker 1: (07:40)
Right. A classic there, I've been speaking to Jordan Brown Lee, an actor in puppeteer in the new musical production of Emmett Otter's jug band Christmas Jordan. Thanks so much for joining us.
Speaker 2: (07:52)
Thank you for having me Jade.
“Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas,” a television special that first aired on HBO in 1978, has returned as a theatrical production in New York.
The new musical stars Jordan Brownlee, a puppeteer and actor who is from San Diego. He joined KPBS Midday Edition on Tuesday to talk about his puppeteering journey and the new production.
"I've been doing puppetry since I was about seven or eight years old," Brownlee said. "I was just a really big fan of 'The Muppets,' 'Sesame Street' and 'Bear in the Big Blue House,' and I just thought if they can do it, maybe I can try it too. So I started building puppets and I taught myself how to sew."
He said the musical is about two puppets, Emmet and Ma Otter who are struggling to make ends meet, so in order to get each other the Christmas gifts they want, they enter a talent show to win a cash prize.
The musical can be streamed online through The New Victory Theater's website through Sunday, Jan. 2.