6/16/1971 – ‘Opening night Nancy Sinatra – Hilton International’

Historical information provided by The Jim Henson Company Archivist:

During June and July 1971, the Muppets were featured performers in Nancy Sinatra’s nightclub act at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. With the almost over-night success of Sesame Street, audiences saw the Muppets as being mostly for children. The Vegas show offered Jim an opportunity to perform for adults and remind them of his characters’ wide appeal. When questioned why, after being such a hit with Sesame Street, he would play a casino, Jim responded, “I don’t particularly like people to think that is all we do. We have always worked in the realm of adults. Maybe that’s why we are here.”

The live show also allowed Jim to experiment with puppetry techniques for the stage, creating new characters and reusing his full body characters and other comic bits that had been originally performed in other settings. “We tried to put together material we thought would work in terms of large movement and color,” he explained. While education was the ultimate goal of Sesame Street, Jim said of this show, “There is that whole feeling of brotherhood and kindness and gentleness beneath it all, but the idea here is basically to entertain.”

The Muppets (performed by Jim with Jerry Nelson, Frank Oz and John Lovelady) shared the stage with Nancy, her brother Frank, Jr., Hugh Lambert, Sugar Ray Robinson, and the International Hotel Orchestra led by Billy Strange. The show started with “Mahna Mahna” and Jim’s abstract creatures performed “Buggy Mugger” and “Big Boss Man”. The oversized Thog sang a duet with Nancy, “Fortuosity”, and a Brotherhood of Frogs performed “When The Frogs Go Marching In”. Pieces for a television version of the show, Movin’ with Nancy, were taped in Los Angeles that August, but the show never aired. The live show, however, was a hit – television writer Joe Delaney said, in speaking about Nancy’s husband and producer, “[Hugh] Lambert’s real stroke of casting genius was to include the TV-famous Muppets on the bill. What a thorough joy they are.”

Jim’s sketch for Buggy Mugger characters, c. 1971.

Jim’s staging plan for Mahna Mahna with Nancy Sinatra, 1971.

Nancy Sinatra and Thog in the Raleigh Times, June 22, 1971.

Read more from Jim Henson’s Red Book in Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal available from Chronicle Books.

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