ANAHEIM — Make no mistake. From the $17 top ticket price to the concession stands selling $2 buttons and $9 T-shirts, "Sesame Street Live," the annual touring stage extravaganza based on the landmark PBS series, is a commercial venture.
That thought may have been on parents' minds at The Pond of Anaheim on Thursday night, where this year's show, "Let's Be Friends," continued its Southland run, but the mostly preschool audience had no such reservations.
As loud, happy music burst out and blue plush curtains parted to reveal Muppet favorites Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Mr. Snuffalupagus, Bert and Ernie and the gang, the roar of delight from fans, many clutching Muppet dolls (and some Barneys), was deafening.
The formula for the shows doesn't vary: oversize Muppet pals, razzle-dazzle lighting effects, big song-and-dance numbers, high decibel taped music and dialogue, rah-rah audience participation, a little counting and spelling and a simple, child-validating story.
And intermission, where those Sesame Street buttons, hats, balloons, flashlights, etc., are sold.
This year's theme is friendship, as Zoe and Elmo start an exclusive club, then expand it to include everybody, even Oscar the Grouch.
In musical numbers that vary from opera takeoffs to rock 'n' roll oldies, the mostly furry and feathery friends share what makes them special and offer a helping hand when Telly is afraid to get his haircut, Cookie's room is mess and Snuffy is ailing.
The charge-'em-up dance numbers take place on the main stage, a long runway and two small stages. The bouncy dancers, who must swelter inside those bulky character suits--a thought that would occur only to an adult--are remarkably light on their feet. They have to be, to avoid the clutching fingers of irrepressible young fans.
There is one difference in this year's show. For the first time, Latina Muppet Rosita is prominently featured, to underscore a message that being bilingual can expand horizons.
Rosita's extended " Hola " number, segueing into Bert's comic musical tribute to south of the border gastronomic delights, a giant dancing red chili pepper and a takeoff of "La Bamba," is a clear crowd pleaser.
* "Sesame Street Live," today and Sunday at The Pond of Anaheim, 2695 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 704-2400; Thursday-May 28 at Pasadena Civic Auditorium, 300 E. Green St., (818) 449-7360; June 1-4 at L.A. Sports Arena, 3939 S. Figueroa St., (213) 748-6136. Curtain: Thursdays, 7 p.m.; Fridays, 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m.; Saturdays, 10:30 a.m., 2 and 5:30 p.m.; Sundays, 1 and 4:30 p.m. $10.50, $12.50, $17, some discounts available. Purchase at box offices or through Ticketmaster, (213) 480-3232, (714) 740-2000.