Yesterday, in writing about Burr Tillstrom and Kukla, Fran & Ollie, I mentioned that later in his career, he did a couple of remarkable productions on stage. One of them was when his puppetry of the character Madame Oglepuss was invited to join a serious production in Chicago of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music and play the part of the Grandmother. Not only did Tillstrom take the challenge, but 'Madam Ophelia Oglepuss' won the Jefferson Award (Chicago's version of the Tony) for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical. The other was when Tillstrom, Kukla and Ollie all appeared on Broadway in 1978 at the Morosco Theatre as part of the replacement cast in the Broadway run of the revue Side by Side By Sondheim. (I wrote that I wasn't sure which came first, but from what little research I can find, appears as if the Broadway production came first.)
In response to the article, reader Douglass Abramson left a comment, almost in near-prayer that there was footage of that Broadway production. As far as I can tell, thus far there isn't, but I do keep searching. But honestly, what I most would love is to find video footage of the A Little Night Music production. And I can find next to nothing of anything about it even existing. And I wouldn't believe it was even done except for two things -- one, that many years ago I remember clearly reading about it. I know one's memory can play tricks on your, but that brings us to the other thing. Two, when the Chicago Historical Society had a 50th Anniversary tribute exhibit to Kukla, Fran & Ollie -- which was wonderfully done -- they had a lot of great memorabilia including...the actual Jefferson Award trophy. So, I absolutely know it existed. But I can't even find what theater it was at. It may have been the Goodman Theatre from something I came across, but that's just a very uncertain guess.
But at least I do have proof that Tillstrom, Kukla and Ollie all really did appear in the Broadway production of Side by Side by Sondheim. Because here is the Playbill for it.
Honestly, just having the graphic of this program is almost good enough, if only to shut down anyone who thinks the story is apocryphal. But this goes beyond just a graphic.
And to be fair, I was being a little bit coy when I said that there wasn't footage of the production. In truth, no, there isn't, at least thus far that I can find. But -- and here's the great part -- there is audio!
It's the sound from a live performance of a song between Nancy Dussault (who most people likely recognize as the mother on the sitcom Too Close for Comfort) and Kukla and Ollie. And even better -- and yes, this can get even better -- the song is one that they added to this particular production, but it had been written by Sondheim about a quarter of a center earlier...specifically for the Kukla, Fran & Ollie TV show!!! Yes, really. It's titled "The Two of You." And all the better, it's a wonderful song -- charming, whimsical and full of some very clever Sondheim lyrics, even then, from the mid-1950s. (Though in fairness, Sondheim wrong the lyrics to West Side Story in 1957, so he was in pretty high control of his abilities. This also shows, though, how big a fan Sondheim must have been of Kukla, Fran & Ollie to have written a song for them around the time he was about to work with Leonard Berstein. It also explains why he was fine putting a couple of puppets and their creator in a Broadway revue of his work.)
In fact, here's the song selection page from that Playbill. You can see the listing in Act One for it, with a reference of who it was written for. Also fun is at the title of the page -- it notes that the producers allowed there to be new narration for this production, specifically written by Burr Tillstrom.
But enough of that. Here is audio of Kukla, Nancy & Ollie, live in performance on Broadway.