Rachael Colon knows all about learning fun lessons from “Sesame Street.” The dancer, who will be joining the live cast for its “Make a New Friend” show Friday through Sunday at UNO Lakefront Arena, is a fan of the PBS franchise, just like millions of others.
“I did watch ‘Sesame Street’ when I was growing up, and I remember vividly learning how to count in Spanish,” Colon said. “First I learned numbers, counting up to 5, I think. I particularly remember learning to count one day while I was at one of my friend’s house.” That lesson served her well; Rachael’s maiden name is Dorr; her husband, Anthony Colon, might appreciate this early Spanish lesson.
But that’s “Sesame Street” for you, and the live, touring versions of the show take that diverse and educational component to a big-show, interactive level.
In “Make a New Friend,” Colon, a trained jazz dancer, plays Chamki, a visitor from India who hopes to befriend lots of familiar characters on her one-day visit.
Her host, Grover, already has a pretty hefty to-do list for the day, whether it’s a yoga session or even kayaking. But Chamki loves hanging out with the gang, including singing songs with Abby Cadabby and munching on a particular snack with Cookie Monster. So much of “Make a New Friend” is spent learning not just another culture, but also how to share time with friends.
“One of the biggest messages of this show in particular is the way it explores the universal fun of friendship, and celebrating cultural similarities,” Colon said. “We do this with everything from singing and dancing to sharing cookies. Chamki brings her snacks from India and shares them with the Cookie Monster.
“So that transcends the cultural differences.”
There’s a strong emphasis on interaction with the audience, so guests can expect lots of visits from the characters coming out from the stage. And while kids will delight in the performances, which include parodies of songs such as “Moves Like Jagger,” adults can be dazzled by plenty of high-tech production work.
For “Sesame Street Live” performance director Jerry Dumars, it’s all about crafting helpful lessons through high production values to keep everyone engaged.
“With every production, we try to update the show as much as possible,” said Dumars, who, like Colon, grew up watching the PBS show. “We’re always trying to touch base with issues that kids have to deal with. You’re always going to meet people who are different. People come in all shapes and sizes and colors, and that’s what makes us different. So every show, we try to introduce new characters, and we try to make it was as new as possible.
“This one (‘Make a New Friend’) has production number after production number. But we’re not just entertaining; we’re educating as well. It’s just a great way to introduce children to live theater.”
That whole interactive component doesn’t delight only children; the performers tend to enjoy it, as well.
“Performing for kids is one of the best parts of show,” said Colon. “To see their faces light up when a favorite character comes onstage is one of the joys of it. One of best parts about live theater is, every show is different, because the audience is different. The interaction each time is just a new experience.”