If "Sesame Street Live!" had a shape of the day on Feb. 19, it would be full circle.
Nearly two years since the production was shut down along with the rest of the performing world due to the COVID-19 pandemic following a run at Madison Square Garden's Hulu Theatre, it's set to resume touring with a stop at the very same venue.
"Sesame Street Live! Let's Party!" will bring Elmo, Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch, Big Bird and more to a theater near you as they sing and dance their way to a perfect fete, including favorite songs like "C Is For Cookie" and "I Love Trash."
Cameron Gonzalez, who plays Elmo, says he can't wait to step back into the world of "Sesame Street."
"It's been really big for me and really heartwarming. I feel like it's been a part of me that's been missing and I'm really excited to get back to it," he said.
He compares the reception from kids to a rock concert.
"Sometimes it's crazy because there'll be a baby mosh pit right in front of you. And parents are like, 'You know what, this is their Beyonce.' So it really is an incredible energy to see kids jumping up and down getting excited because Elmo is waving at them, or Abby is doing a magic spell or they're hearing a song that they've heard 1,000 times on 'Sesame Street,' and they're just yelling and singing along."
That's not to say it's always easy being red.
"I know how much Elmo means to everyone. It feels sometimes like a big responsibility because just knowing kids' connection to this little 3½-year-old red monster is very palpable," said Gonzalez, who grew up in Pensacola, Fla., and worked for Disney World before joining "Sesame Street."
He says the first time he stepped onstage as Elmo was nerve-wracking. He streamed untold hours of "Sesame Street" to prepare on top of rehearsals, but was nervous.
"As soon as I stepped out and heard the applause and the cheer it just felt like 'Okay, you're home. You know what you're doing. ... Let's have fun."
So how exactly does one portray Elmo?
"It really is reminding yourself that Elmo is a 3½-year-old," he said. "So at heart, he is still learning about the world, still learning about concepts. So it really is taking everything in, experiencing a lot of things for the first time. And looking at that through excited eyes, through fun eyes. Leading with your heart rather than your mind like adults typically do. Just being excited about the world and seeing the good in everything and the innocence in everything."
Connection to the Shore
During the interactive, sensory Feld Entertainment, Inc. production, audiences are invited to dance with Elmo, explore a wintry wonderland when Abby Cadabby’s magic goes awry, take flight with Big Bird to learn about some of his feathered friends, and discover new cultures in an interactive Spanish lesson with Rosita, alongside live emcees Casey and Caleb.
Ashley Budinick, a Brick native, is the performance director for "Let's Party!"
She watches each show to take notes on production and performance.
"I also re-teach the show to each of our new cast members that come in every year. So it's a really awesome and rewarding job because you get to see people start from the beginning and then really build their role, ... really make all of these iconic 'Sesame Street' characters come to life."
Budinick joined the show four years ago as a dancer, and then dance captain. She graduated from Brick Memorial High School in 2007 and then attended the University Of the Arts in Philadelphia before working professionally in New York and California. She was part of Netflix's "A Week Away," which premiered in 2021.
She loves being part of a show that attracts kids and families.
"Honestly, at the end of the day, I always believe children are your best audience because they just get so excited and they're so full of life," she said.
The tour then heads up to Albany on March 5 and 6, then to State College and Allentown, Pa., in mid-March, and the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia from April 8 to 10.
Tickets for New York City and New Brunswick start at $15. Visit sesamestreetlive.com for more information.
Ilana Keller is an award-winning journalist and lifelong New Jersey resident who loves Broadway and really bad puns. She highlights arts advocacy and education, theater fundraisers and more through her column, "Sightlines." Reach out on Twitter: @ilanakeller; firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: 'Sesame Street Live' is back in NYC and New Jersey