During the summer of 1971, Jim and his team performed on stage with Nancy Sinatra in her Las Vegas show at the International Hotel. The challenges of a live performance intrigued Jim; unlike with television, he had to figure out how to create characters that would be visible and effective for audiences both in the front row and far away in the balconies. “I have in mind doing a stage show, a full Broadway show with puppets. This enabled me to try a few things I wanted to try on stage,” he explained. He designed oversized versions of Mahna Mahna and the Snowths. Thog, the giant walk-around monster from The Great Santa Claus Switch, made an appearance. And Jim created a brand new puppet called Big Boss Man to sing the Luther Dixon and Al Smith song of the same name. Big Boss Man was a feathery creature, three times as tall as Jim, harnessed to him with straps and operated by large rods. Jim told the press, “We tried to put together material we thought would work in terms of large movement and color.”
Upon returning to New York, Jim began serious work on ideas for a live show and by the end of the year, was in discussions with Lincoln Center. It was to be an evening of puppet pieces that flowed from one into the next. According to the pitch, they would, “…present a series of contrasting moods and scale, showing the full range of what puppetry is capable of doing.” One was called “Life Story – Ball of Fuzz”; it was to be all music and sounds with no dialogue showing a series of adventures of various creatures like the Loathsome Beast and some gazelles. Another starred chatty insects with perhaps a chorus line of worms. An ambitious piece was meant to give a capsule history of religion, falling into chaos and ending with a lone flower. A flock of birds in the trees provided a comic moment, and the joyous ending featured all the puppeteers taking off their costumes and puppets, singing “We are all just people underneath.”
Jim sought both creative partners and business partners to make his idea a reality. In 1973, he signed with Emanuel “Manny” Azenberg and Eugene Wolsk, theatrical producers, to bring his vision to the stage. They were enthusiastic and saw great potential for the project. They set out to raise money, pitching it to ABC as a TV special and arranging for various talent to work with Jim. In 1975, Azenberg and Wolsk were still selling the show. They booked Alice Tully Hall, and Jim started casting for a summer production. By then, however, Jim was getting real interest for The Muppet Show and began appearing on Saturday Night Live. The Broadway Show project was set aside, but many of the concepts such as the gazelles and the birds in the trees were used to great effect on The Muppet Show. Into the 1980s, Jim continued to develop different ideas for a live show on the New York stage, but it never came to fruition. Twenty-five years later, puppets seem ubiquitous in live theater.