It’s certainly no coincidence that longtime friends and stage partners Reed Sigmund and Bradley Greenwald have found themselves sharing the stage once more. This time, instead of playing a pair of beloved mismatched anthropomorphic friends, they play a pair of beloved mismatched foam and felt friends.
In “Bert & Ernie, Goodnight!” — opening Sept. 8 at the Children’s Theatre Company — they take on the roles made famous (behind the foam, of course) by Jim Henson and Frank Oz. Through the show, they present a string of classic sketches and songs from “Sesame Street.”
“I was a little nervous at first,” Sigmund admits about his first blush with the material at a workshop several years ago. “It is one of those things that can be tricky — playing a Muppet as a human character, I’ve never seen that done. Also, will the material be strong enough to translate to two guys just standing there? And on top of that, I’m a huge Jim Henson and Frank Oz fan, so there was a huge responsibility to take someone else’s genius and do it justice.”
All that faded away as the workshop began. “It became evident that the material was really funny, really strong and really honest. There was so much humanity in the material that it translated perfectly to humans.”
That was important to the actors, who were working with a show with a deep legacy — one that goes back four decades and generations of people. “I was a huge ‘Sesame Street’ fan. I was one of those kids who watched the show way past the normal age. I’m also a big fan of ‘The Muppet Show.’ I really never outgrew it,” Sigmund says. “When I was researching this and watching the old shows, I could remember all of the beats from the scenes.”
As work continued, the script was shaped. Finding an arc in the diverse material proved challenging, but Barry Kornhauser, who adapted the work for the stage, ended up focusing on all of the “bedtime” conversations the duo had. While that made for a good story, it did leave some famous material by the wayside. “We don’t have the ‘Rubber Ducky’ song, but that’s good because they didn’t try to shoehorn it into the show. Still, it’s always sad when a song you love isn’t there,” Sigmund says.
“When I went back and looked at the shorts (available online) it was really enjoyable, because these two characters were so beautifully realized,” Greenwald says. “They were much more than two children’s characters — they were extensions of Jim Henson and Frank Oz. You could feel those two personalities in those two characters.”
Sigmund and Greenwald famously played a different set of mismatched friends at CTC. They were the stars of “A Year With Frog & Toad.”
“It’s not really the same,” Sigmund says. “Toad is a worrywort and insecure, while Ernie is very innocent and comfortable in his own skin. Frog is endlessly patient with Toad and never expresses any frustration.”
Their work together — this is the seventh time they’ve shared the stage since 2002 — also helps Sigmund and Greenwald get over the “weird honeymoon” when actors are trying to figure each other out. Instead, they have been able to get right down to the work at hand. The show provides plenty of challenges. The two actors are on stage all the time and have to bring two familiar characters alive. (And, to dispel any notions, they aren’t playing Bert and Ernie in giant costumes, so Greenwald won’t be on stage with a big pointy head.)
“What’s great when you are working with someone who is a good friend, there is an automatic connection and fondness for each other,” Sigmund says.
That extends to the entire company, from director Peter C. Brosius to the rest of the backstage staff who have worked to bring the piece together, he adds.
All of it, both say, make for an evening worthy of the ‘Sesame Street’ name and the characters created so long ago by Henson and Oz.
“I think that one of the great things about ‘Sesame Street’ is that it doesn’t play down the kids. It gives them a lot of credit. And they had great personalities and characters, who were honest and true. It taught kids without patronizing them,” Sigmund says.
The characters are also universal. “You are either a Bert or an Ernie. It may change from one day to the next, but it’s always there. I am Bert. I didn’t have to dig very deep to find my character. I like things that other people would find boring. The little joys of my life are completely uninteresting except to me,” Greenwald says.
“Bert & Ernie, Goodnight!” runs from Tuesday, Sept. 8 (in previews; it opens Sept. 11) through Oct. 25 at the Children’s Theatre Company, 2400 Third Ave. S., Minneapolis. Tickets are $15 to $40. For tickets and more information, call (612) 874-0400 or visit online.