Ever since I saw the zany antics of Swiss mime troupe Mummenschanz on The Muppet Show as a child, I've wanted to see them live on stage. I begged my parents to take me but they never did. So when I heard the mummers were coming to NYC this holiday season, I decided to make my own wish come true, and I brought my seven-year-old along.
My son wasn't familiar with their work, so the toilet paper people and other celebrated acts were all new to him. It definitely took a little time for him to warm up to their unique style, sense of humor and the fact that no one speaks. But by the end, he was mesmerized by the talented performers, who use wire, fabric, giant inflatables and puppetry to enhance their wacky pantomimes. I had waited almost four decades to see them in person, and they did not disappoint.
Mummenschanz is very old-school and low-tech. Their acts are simple yet clever and peppered with slapstick. The company is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and their shtick hasn't changed much. In other words, they're still doing all of those bits I loved from the '70s.
The two-hour show consists of 30 mini-sketches, all whimsical, accessible and brief. It's perfect for kids since a long attention span isn't required. If you child does start to lose interest in a routine, suddenly they're on to the next one. Plus there's no plot, dialog or music, just abstract creatures doing kooky things on a bare stage.
It's hard to pick favorites (and even harder to describe them!) but my son and I loved the giant yellow tube that plays catch with the audience, the large blob that rolls right off the stage and into the seats, the white fabric that transformed into various faces and the famous toilet paper people that so intrigued me in my youth.
The show is recommended for children ages 6 and up, which seems about right, especially since the show attracts lots of childless grown-ups who take their mine very seriously! (Make sure your kids understand that they'll need to be as quiet as the mines onstage.) I also want to note that my seven-year-old son, who's used to more traditional shows, didn't love it at first. He kept asking what it all meant, what was the point. Once I explained that he shouldn't take it so literally, he stopped over-analyzing and really fell for its charms. If you're not sure whether your family will enjoy it, try watching a few of their videos on YouTube.
Mummenschanz is playing through Sunday, January 6 at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, 556 LaGuardia Place at Washington Square South. Visit the website for the complete schedule. Tickets are $48-$85 but you can save up to 25% by using the BroadwayBox discount code.