Kermit the Frog on Why It's Not That Easy Being Green in the Emerald City

Kermit says Hi-Ho to the great and powerful Wizard in Lythgoe Family Panto’s ”The Wonderful Winter of Oz”.

California's Lythgoe Family Panto (LFP) has a long list of distinguished alumni: Ariana Grande, Neil Patrick Harris, and Morgan Fairchild, among them. Now, for its December 14-30 production of The Wonderful Winter of Oz at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, LFP is adding a bona fide legend to its roster: Kermit the Frog.

In this holiday-themed show, Kermit makes his long-awaited return to the stage as the Wizard of Oz himself. It's not his first time working on the classic story — he played the Scarecrow in 2005 in The Muppets' Wizard of Oz — but, in his words "When the Lythgoe Family Panto asked me to be the Wizard, I hopped (amphibiously speaking) at the chance." Still, it's not that easy being green…especially when you're a frog living in the Emerald City.

Kermit the Frog stars in The Wonderful Winter of Oz.
Kermit the Frog stars in The Wonderful Winter of Oz.
(© David Gordon)

Your association with live theater dates back to the days of The Muppet Show, where you all were putting on a weekly variety show. What is it about this particular medium that you love?
When we're making a movie or a TV show, the only audience we get to entertain is the crew. And since most Muppet crewmembers are rats, they don't laugh a lot – except at cheese jokes. For me, doing a live theater show like this with a human audience is magical. I get to interact with the audience, have fun with my fellow cast members…and make it happen in the moment. Every single show is different and special.

What can audiences expect from this production of The Wonderful Winter of Oz?
The unexpected, of course…Y'see, panto is such a magical form of theater – with music, comedy, utter nonsense, and total surprises. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of a Muppet production; you never know what's going to happen next. So while I can't tell you exactly what you'll see, I promise it's going to be a wild, silly, crazy, endearingly chaotic show the whole family will love.

Which role do you think offers you a stronger opportunity to stretch yourself as an actor: Scarecrow, which you played onscreen in 2005, or Oz in the panto? Why?
They both offer challenges. The Scarecrow is a tough role if you're allergic to hay. I sneezed between every take. But once I got a brain, I was able to figure out where to buy hay fever medicine. As for playing the Wizard, that's an extremely difficult role for a frog. Y'see, Emerald City is green, so I keep blending in with the decor. But don't worry, we fixed that. I promise to be completely visible when you come see our show.

You've worked in the past with so many legendary theater stars: Liza Minnelli, Bernadette Peters, and Joel Grey, among them. What's the best piece of advice about doing live theater that you've received along the way?
I received two great bits of theatrical advice. Liza, Bernadette, and Joel taught me that I should "Always face the audience." And Fozzie Bear taught me to "run if they start throwing things." Follow that advice and you can't go wrong.

It's been a long time since Manhattan Melodies played on Broadway. Would you be interested in reviving it, and who would you cast in your role for a new production?
Well, it certainly would be fun to do a revival of Manhattan Melodies, and I'd sure like to be in the production myself. But if I had to recast my role in the Manhattan Melodies, I'd go with the supremely talented singer, dancer, and actor Neil Patrick Harris. I just hope he doesn't mind playing opposite Miss Piggy; she's contractually obligated to play herself.