Chatting with Alan Muraoka about ‘Sesame Street’, THE NICE LIST and Baking His Way Through the Pandemic

Alan Muraoka on the set of “Sesame Street”

Congratulations to Alan Muraoka on his latest recognition by The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences as part of the cast of Sesame Street’s 50th Anniversary Celebration (HBO), a 2019-2020 Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Class Special. The show garnered a total of 11 Daytime Emmys during the 47th Daytime Emmy Awards.

Muraoka has been on the show for 23 years, where he plays Alan, the proprietor of Hooper’s Store. Since Muraoka has been on the show, “Sesame Street” has received the Daytime Emmy for  Outstanding Pre-School Series 21 times.

Alan Muraoka, Jennifer Barnhart. Photo by Lia Chang
Alan Muraoka, Jennifer Barnhart. Photo by Lia Chang

Muraoka recently received two Broadwayworld Cabaret Award nominations for two cabaret shows that he directed –  Jennifer Barnhart’s It’s About Time and Elizabeth Ward Land’s STILL WITHIN THE SOUND OF MY VOICE, which also garnered a 2020 Bistro Award for Best Tribute Show right before the shut down. Click here to vote.

Jennifer Barnhart’s Solo Cabaret At The Laurie Beechman Theatre In It’s About Time!

Arei Sekiguchi, Andrew David Sotomayor, Joel Waggoner, Elizabeth Ward Land, Kevin Kuhn, Catherine Porter, Jordan Jancz, Alan Muraoka at The Green Room 42. Photo by Lia Chang

Elizabeth Ward Land Performs STILL WITHIN THE SOUND OF MY VOICE: THE SONGS OF LINDA RONSTADT at The Green Room 42 

Alan Muraoka is also at the helm of the new holiday musical, The Nice List, which features book and lyrics by Phoebe Kreutz (The Pizza Underground, Awesomer and Awesomer), six original songs by Gary Adler (Drama Desk nominated for Altar Boyz) and choreography by the incomparable Michael Mindlin (Hamilton, Aladdin).

Jennifer Barnhart, James Monroe Iglehart and Alan Muraoka backstage at Aladdin at  The New Amsterdam Theatre in New York on October 30, 2016. Photo by Lia Chang

The cast features James Monroe Iglehart (Aladdin, Hamilton, “Kimmy Schmidt”) as Santa Claus “the main man of the North Pole”, and a talented team of elves starting with the head elf of the workshop “Chestnut” played by Telly Leung (Aladdin, Allegiance), Julia Mattison (Godspell) as the “questionably” positive Crumpet,  Ann Harada (Avenue Q, Seussical) as Raisin, Toot Toot” Cookie, portrayed by Jennifer Barnhart (Avenue Q, “Sesame Street”), Nick Kohn dolling around as Fruitcake (Avenue Q, The Buddy Holly Story) and Gumdrop stuffing his way through the mayhem played by Don Darryl Rivera (Iago in Broadway’s Aladdin) running low on Christmas spirit. This special glimpse into the North Pole has been provided by Masie Productions in partnership with Starhawk Productions. 

I checked in with Alan via email to see how he has been managing through this pandemic and to talk about developing The Nice List from page to screen.

Joey Monda, Phoebe Kruetz, Gary Adler, Alan Muraoka, Telly Leung.
Joey Monda, Phoebe Kruetz, Gary Adler, Alan Muraoka, Telly Leung.

Lia: Can you break down the process of creating theater on film, how the project developed and how you chose your cast?
Alan: So back in June, my friend and collaborator Phoebe Kreutz called me with an idea for a holiday musical. She wanted to do a virtual holiday musical as a tonic for the year we all have endured. I thought the idea was brilliant and said, “Write it and we’ll figure out a way to get it out there for the holidays.” We brought on longtime friend/collaborator Gary Adler to write the music, and Phoebe created the book and lyrics. From there, I called Telly Leung to play Chestnut, one of the elves, and he loved the idea so much that he jumped on as Executive Producer. Honestly casting was all about “who do we love being in a room with” who are uber talented, and that is how we got our fantastic cast. Telly and I had a Zoom meeting with Elliott and Cathy Maisie,  who was a producer on The Prom, American in Paris, and many other Broadway shows. They loved the idea and jumped on to produce. It all happened very quickly. Every actor self-taped, and I had worked with a wonderful editor on the HBO Sesame racism project, and we brought him on the edit. The result is something that I am extremely proud of. The Nice List is available for free on YouTube throughout the month of December and can be viewed below. It is our gift to everyone to bring a smile and a laugh after such a trying year.

www.nicelistmusical.com

Lia: How long have you played Alan on ‘Sesame Street’?
Alan: I joined the show for Season 30 and we are finishing filming Season 52, which means I’ve been a part of the show for 23 years! I never thought I would be a part of any show for that long. In show business we are taught that jobs come and go and to be ready for that kind of nomad existence, so this is extraordinary.

Sesame Street: Elmo’s Playdate

Lia: What other awards have you received?
Alan: For ‘Sesame’ I’ve received the APEX Inspiration Award in 2004.

Bill Irwin with Alan Muraoka on the set of “Sesame Street”.

Lia: When did you start directing episodes of ‘Sesame Street’?
Alan: I directed a short film for the show in 2009, and since that time I have directed short vignettes for the show. I got to direct Tony-winning actor Bill Irwin as Mr. Noodle for “Elmo’s World” twice, and I’ve directed for our “Monster Foodies” segments three times. I co-directed a whole episode for Season 51 and co-directed our HBO Special on racism “The Power of We” earlier in the year. I will be directing my first full episode for Season 52 this week.

Alan Muraoka on the “Sesame Street” float at The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Lia: How long have you been involved with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?
Alan: I’ve choreographed our numbers for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for the past 10 years and it’s honestly my favorite event of the year. I love being out there on the float as it travels the parade route, seeing all of the smiling faces waving to us. I really did miss it this year. It was our first time not participating in the parade in over 25 years. But we will be back, hopefully next year.

Herb Perry and Alan Muraoka. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: How have you managed during the pandemic, in general and specifically with Herb being on the front lines as an essential worker? 
Alan: I think like everyone I’ve had my good days and my bad days during these past 9 months. My husband Herb is a Nurse Manager in charge of the ICU at Beth Israel, and back in March it became the COVID ICU. So he was hit especially hard back then. Then, in early April he came home with COVID symptoms, and I caught it soon after with our April spent fighting the sickness. We both luckily had milder versions of it, although Herb was hospitalized for pneumonia for a few days. We got all of the symptoms except the breathing problems, so we were very, very fortunate.

Alan Muraoka. Photo by Lia Chang

I am a baker and went to pastry school, so part of my giving back is baking for his staff at least 2-3 times a month. That is really how I have been coping. I’ve been discovering new recipes, and trying things that I’ve never done before. When I finally got my hands on yeast, I made pizza dough, monkey bread, focaccia, etc. I started posting stuff on social media, which led to others wanting to try out the recipes. This led to a monthly “Pandemic Baking Challenge,” where we pick one recipe and about 10-12 friends and I all make the recipe and we post the results online. There’s no prize but it’s just a fun way to bond and keep sane. This past weekend we all tackled chocolate babka, with great results.

Lia: When did you decide to get a cat?
Alan: Herb has wanted a cat since we met, but I was the hold out. I always thought of myself as a “dog” person, and I was allergic to cats growing up. But a friend of mine who rescues cats in Harlem sent a photo of a cat that she spotted in April of 2020, and I was immediately taken with how beautiful this cat was. I guess it was love at first sight, because I immediately texted my friend and told  her that if she could rescue this cat, we would take her. It took 2 months for our friend to find her, but she finally did and we adopted her in late June. The cat’s name is Charlie, and she now owns us (okay me) and has the run of the house. She is spoiled rotten, and I don’t think she misses street life in the least.

Alan Muraoka and his cat Charlie.
Alan Muraoka

Alan Muraoka (Director) – Television: “Sesame Street: The Power of We” (HBO Max and PBS), “Sesame Street” (Season 51, Monster Foodies, Elmo’s World) , Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC.

Billy Bustamante and Alan Muraoka. Photo by Lia Chang

New York theatre credits include: Avenue Q (Off Broadway-Resident Director), The Report (NY Fringe), Kung Fu (Signature Theatre-Assistant Director),l Jennifer Barnhart: It’s About Time! (Laurie Beechman Theatre), Elizabeth Ward Land: Still Within The Sound of My Voice (Green Room 42, Bistro Award- Best Tribute Show 2020) Ann Harada: American Songbook (Lincoln Center), Awesomer & Awesomer!!! (Triad Theatre), The King and I (Harbor Lights Theatre Company), Telly Leung: Playlist and What Makes a Man? (54 Below), Grand Hotel (NYU/Cap 21), Falsettoland (NAATCO), John Tartaglia AD-LIBerty (Joe’s Pub). Regionally: Gold Mountain (Eccles Theatre & Perry’s Egyptian Theatre), Olney Theatre: South Pacific, Once On This Island. At the Lyric Theatre in Oklahoma City:The King and I, XanaduDisney’s High School Musical and Disney’s High School Musical 2. Other regional credits include Disney’s High School Musical (MUNY, Casa Manana), Urinetown (Trinity University), and Associate Director for Up In The Air (Kennedy Center).  As an actor, Mr. Muraoka has appeared in 7 Broadway shows, and has been a cast member of “Sesame Street” for the past 23 years, where he plays Alan, the proprietor of Hooper’s Store. Mr. Muraoka is a graduate of UCLA, where he received the Carol Burnett Musical Comedy Award for performance.  Website: www.alanmuraoka.tv

Check out The Nice List blooper reel below.

Watch: Alan Muraoka Helmed Premiere of Phoebe Kreutz and Gary Adler’s New Holiday Musical THE NICE LIST Featuring Ann Harada, Telly Leung, James Monroe Iglehart, Julia Mattison, Jennifer Barnhart, Nick Kohn and Don Darryl Rivera through Dec. 31 

Alan Muraoka and Sesame Street Muppeteers Jennifer Barnhart and Kathleen Kim Celebrate Year of the Rat at The Met 

Lia Chang

Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers, musicians and corporations. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman. She stars in and served as Executive Producer for the short independent films Hide and Seek, Balancing Act, Rom-Com Gone Wrong, Belongingness andWhen the World was Young. She is also the Executive Producer for The CactusThe Language LessonThe Writer and Cream and 2 Shugahs.

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