Jane Henson, wife of Jim Henson and key collaborator in the creation of his Muppets, passed away in April of this year, but her artistic legacy lives on this Christmas Eve in the form of her final project. Jane Henson's Nativity Story will air on CBS television at 11:35 p.m. on 12/24, featuring puppets she personally designed and narration by Regis Philbin.
The show, a faithful retelling of the Biblical text, has deep local roots; it premiered locally in 2010, was presented at the 2011 Orlando Puppet Festival, and I covered a subsequent mounting at St. John's Lutheran in a 2012 edition of Live Active Cultures. The last time I saw Henson's lovingly sculpted figures of the Holy Family, they were on display at her memorial service.
Henson's nativity play is being brought to a nationwide audience by a team that has many Orlando connections, starting with her daughter Heather (founder of IBEX Puppetry) who co-produces with her sister Cheryl. Pinocchio's Marionette Theatre's Sean Keohane, UCF's Vandy Wood, and kite flyer Curtiss Mitchell also contributed.
Here is the complete press release for the broadcast:
NATIONAL CBS TV CHRISTMAS SPECIAL HAS ORLANDO ROOTS
On behalf of the Church of St. Paul the Apostle in New York City, Paulist
Productions in association with ESM Productions has produced a Christmas
Eve Special for the CBS Television Network: "A New York Christmas to
Remember." The one hour special of Bible lessons and Christmas carols
stars Regis Philbin and will air nationally on December 24th in the Late
Night with David Letterman slot at 11:35 p.m. EST.
A performance of puppetry vignettes from "The Nativity Story," conceived
and created by the late Jane Henson, co-creator of the Muppets with her
husband Jim, and co-produced by her daughter Heather Henson, will be
featured as the program's centerpiece. The beautiful puppets in Jane's
moving production were built by the famous Jim Henson Creature Shop in New
York, but the entire show was written and directed by Sean Keohane of
Pinocchio's Marionette Theater in Altamonte Springs. The full version of
the show premiered in 2010 with local Central Florida actors and musicians
at St. James Catholic Cathedral in Downtown Orlando before subsequently
touring to Pinocchio's and St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church of Winter
Park. The show has also been seen at other Orlando-area churches and
schools in performances sponsored by Jane Henson as a gift to the
The television special is the brainchild of both Fr. Eric Andrews, the
head of Paulist Productions, and Cheryl Henson, President of The Jim
Henson Foundation, partly as a tribute to Jane, who passed away in April
of this year. The special was pre-recorded on Thursday, December 5, at St.
Paul the Apostle Church, the mother church of the Paulist Fathers, located
at Columbus Avenue and 60th Street.
The selected puppetry vignettes are narrated by longtime TV host Regis
Philbin, reading from the Gospels, and are directed for television by
puppeteer Amanda Maddock. Stage blocking was created by Sean Keohane and
set design is by Vandy Wood, an associate professor in the theater
department of the University of Central Florida. Live music is provided
by St. Paul's Choir as well as the Fordham Choir and orchestral musicians
from the Julliard School at Lincoln Center. Heather Henson and Curtiss
Mitchell of Orlando perform intricate kite-flying maneuvers inside the
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