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This week Sesame Street, the long-running children’s educational program, introduced a new muppet with autism named Julia, but she’s not the only groundbreaking muppet coming out of The Jim Henson Company. This month, Netflix released Julie’s Greenroom, a 13-episode kid’s show starring musical goddess Julie Andrews, and it features Riley, a gender neutral muppet.
Andrews — a renowned singer starred in such beloved musicals as Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, and Victor/Victoria — helped create, write and produce Julie’s Greenroom along with her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, as a way to teach children about the performing arts.
In a New York Times piece about the show, Hamilton pointed to Riley, an “androgynous puppet sporting shortish red hair and round glasses” and said, “If pressed, we’d say that she’s a girl, but maybe not forever. We wanted to be as diverse as possible.” The show also features a muppet in a wheelchair and muppets of different races.
It’s a groundbreaking first for a children’s show that comes on the heels of other important firsts over the last year including the first ever same-sex kiss to appear on a Disney cartoon and the introduction of same-sex parents in cartoons from Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network.
Hamilton and Andrews said that they wanted to create a “wildly entertaining” show that uses theatre arts to teach kids about critical thinking, empathy, tolerance and communication skills while not getting too preachy. They also had a hand in helping design the muppets — picking out fabrics and physical details — while working in Jim Henson’s Creature Workshop.
The show will also feature guest stars like Alec Baldwin, Idina Menzel, Josh Groban, Carol Burnett and openly gay actor David Hyde Pierce. But Andrews may not do as much singing in the show as fans would like:
Following a botched surgery on her vocal cords 20 years ago, her once four-octave range is now reduced to one. These days, she speak-sings. “I touch what notes I can and say the others,” Ms. Andrews said. “I have about three or four good bass notes left. I could sing you a terrific version of ‘Old Man River.’”