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‘Elmopalooza!’ Musical Tries a Little Too Hard

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For many longtime fans, Muppet magic is a given: Build a show around any of those fuzzy creations, throw in witty music, madcap anarchy, a few choice yuks and a little heart, and we’re happy. So, it’s not easy to report that tonight’s “Elmopalooza!” disappoints.

Hosted by small, shy Elmo of “Tickle Me” fame, in a celebrity-laden, Radio City Music Hall setting, the special gives the “Sesame Street” residents the kind of prime-time exposure usually reserved for their more worldly, cracking-wise “Muppet Show” kindred. But it doesn’t serve them nearly as well.

Instead, this self-billed musical tribute to “Sesame Street’s” “30 years of music and laughs” isn’t sure whether to be hip or huggable.

The result is curiously flat and more celebrity showcase than tribute, cramming in appearances by Rosie O’Donnell, Chris Rock, Cindy Crawford, Jon Stewart, David Alan Grier and--in music-video format--En Vogue, Gloria Estefan, the Fugees, Kenny Loggins and others, who interpret some “Sesame Street” songs with help from the Count, Big Bird, Kermit and other Muppets. Other familiar tunes are given short shrift in an uninspired medley.

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A few of the videos work, led by Shawn Colvin cuddling in a convertible with Ernie for a duet of Jeff Moss’ poignant “I Don’t Want to Live on the Moon.” What might have been can also be found in some classic Bert and Ernie repartee, a too-brief glimpse of space-monster Muppets guesting on Conan O’Brien and--in an underdone running gag--a well-meaning Grover getting lost while chauffeuring “Sesame Street” humans to the show and acquiring penguins and chickens along the way.

Mostly though, the creative, comic spark that has given the Muppets and their music extraordinary appeal is sadly dampened here, leaving a “palooza” with more fizzle than sizzle.

* “Elmopalooza!” airs at 8 tonight on ABC (Channel 7). The network has rated it TV-G (suitable for all ages).


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