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January 31, 2013

By Alan Muraoka

‘Singing Through Tears’: Alan Muraoka Talks About the Broadway with Love Benefit for Sandy Hook

Alan Muraoka plays “Alan” on Sesame Street.

When I was approached to participate in From Broadway with Love – A Benefit Concert for Sandy Hook, I knew that Sesame Street had to be a part of it. I wanted to rally as many of the cast as possible. Emails and phone calls were sent out, and before you knew it I had group of talented volunteers: Alison Bartlett (Gina), Sonia Manzano (Maria), Bob McGrath (Bob), Roscoe Orman (Gordon), from the human cast, and Muppeteers  Carmen Osbahr, Pam Arciero, and Tyler Bunch, performing Rosita, Grungetta, and Herry Monster, respectively. We decided that the song “Just One Person” would be the perfect fit for the benefit, because it is a song about hope, community and love. It seemed to be the right message:

If just one person believes in you

Deep enough and strong enough believes in you

Hard enough and long enough

Before you knew it someone lese would think

If he can do it, I can do it

Making it two

Two whole people who believe in you…

And Sesame Street believes in the children. We have for decades.

But the night was more than just a show – far more. We all knew the gravity and context of the situation. Before the show began we were asked to meet with some of the family members who lost loved ones. It was hard for me to take that first step into the room, because I was afraid that my own sorrow for these innocent people would get the better of me. But the magic and heart of the Muppets made all of that worry disappear. Rosita, Grungetta and Herry were able to bring smiles to the children, which of course brought comfort to the parents. And they greeted all of us like friends, as if we were always part of their community. I guess, in a sense, we were.

The entire evening was, as I’d later tell my colleagues, one of the most important things  I’ve ever done as a cast member of our remarkable show. The tone was critically important to get right, and the director and writers did a brilliant job of finding that right balance. The Muppet characters got to bring some lightness and humor, and we humans got to thank all the people who are trying to begin the process of healing in a devastated community. What is special about what we do is that our show represents both community and heart. And we were all a part of this show because it brings a little light, a little warmth to people’s lives.

We opened the second act of the show, and when Rosita, Grungetta and Herry popped up from behind the Muppet wall, the burst of applause was deafening. And when the human cast walked out, that same wave of appreciation swept over each one of us. As I looked out into the audience, I could see children waving and smiling to the Muppets, and parents openly weeping. It was overwhelming. During rehearsal I asked Carmen to alter one lyric in the song, from “If he can do it, I can do it” to “If she can do it, I can do it.” And I asked her that when she sang this lyric, to think of Victoria Soto, the teacher who saved many of her students by hiding them, and died trying to protect them. So when this part of the song arrived, I was crying, and looked over to see each one of cast with tears in their eyes. I was so moved by the moment that I flubbed the lyric of the song – singing through tears is a skill we’ve yet to master — but it didn’t matter. It wasn’t about me, or my performance. It was about so many other much more important things: the solidarity of community, grieving, honoring, remembering, and ultimately, healing.

A parent of Newtown came up to me and said, “Thank you for being able to say many of the things that we are feeling and still are not quite able to express.” Seeing the kids with big smiles and laughing while parents were openly weeping in the audience showed the magnitude of how impactful it was for all of us to be there. And not just us from Sesame Street, but the families as well. Tyler called them “superheroes” for simply being in the house after such a devastating loss – and he’s right.

What is special about what we do is that our show represents both community and heart. We are all a part of the show because each bring a little light, a little warmth to what we do. And I made a vow to myself that I when the time is right, we’ll bring more warmth and more light — I will make some visits up to the Newtown and to continue the healing process. It takes just one person.

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