Gena Byrd has a hard time thinking of a day when she wasn’t dancing. As soon as she learned to walk, the Colorado native was on her feet, twirling and tapping her way to a career in musical theatre.
After training at The Dance Center of Colorado Springs and Colorado Jazz Dance Company, Gena earned spots in shows such as “Sweet Charity”, “Cabaret”, and “Guys and Dolls”, before landing in a job in the Sesame Street area of Busch Gardens that paved the way for her to take her spot among the lovable group of friends who live on Sesame Street.
“It turned out to be a much more rewarding experience than I anticipated,” she remembers. “You really learn how much the kids look up to these characters and that you are portraying their heroes in a lot of cases. I fell in love with it.”
An opportunity to bring her talents honed at the theme park on the road presented itself and Gena jumped at the chance to bring the music and lessons she came to know and love to children everywhere. She joined Sesame Street Live in 2014 as part of the “Make a New Friend” show and now tackles the roles of Grover and Baby Bear in the current production, “Elmo Makes Music!”, which rolls into Houma Nov. 17.
The show features Elmo, Abby Cadabby, Big Bird, and all of their beloved Sesame Street friends who are gathering together to welcome Jenny, a new music teacher to their neighborhood. Jenny arrives only to discover her instruments are missing. Her new Muppet friends quickly come to her rescue, creating music from some of the most unexpected items like trash can lids and cookie jars. For Grover, his contribution comes in the form of an item Gena is very familiar with: tap shoes.
“The thing I was best at when I started dancing was tap dancing and Grover has a very big tap number. The music he finds to give to his friend Jenny are tap dance shoes so it was fun to finally get to put that to use,” she says.
Throughout the show, there’s also the timeless lessons Sesame Street has made its name on. Patience, acceptance and teamwork are all presented, in a way, Gena says, that reaches kids in a unique way.
“There’s a song called ‘Singing Up the Scale’, for example, and it teaches them about the music scale. They’re learning without knowing that they’re learning,” she explains.
The Broadway-quality show also manages to cleverly keep the accompanying adults entertained as well. Spoofs and pop culture references are woven into the narrative, presented through all the characters both adults and kids will recognize. It’s this entertaining take on some of the most important life lessons that make for magic every time the show takes the stage.
“We have all the classic characters that [adults can relate to] and also the new characters that the kids are more familiar with,” Gena explains. “They do try to make the show very adult-friendly. There’s a lot of spoofs, a cute disco number, there’s some Rockin’ Robin. There’s songs that people recognize. They definitely make sure they put some entertainment in there for the adults as well as the children so that everybody can have fun while enjoying it.”
Want to Go?
Sesame Street Live Elmo Makes Music!
Nov. 17, 10:30 a.m. & 6:30 p.m.
Houma-Terrebonne Civic Center, Houma
Admission: $16-$66 (Meet &Greet packages also available)