Playmates reinvigorated the toy-buying community's interest in playsets with their World of Springfield line, but they were really too entrenched in their own technology to fully take advantage of it. Palisades followed suit by adding playsets to their Muppets line, but they went further than the Simpsons ever did. They started simple, with Dr. Bunsen Honeydew's laboratory and gradually got larger and more ornate, finally culminating in the Backstage playset.
The premise of the old Muppet Show was that the chaacters were all actors putting on a variety show in an old, run-down theatre. And as anyone who's ever worked in theatre can tell you, what happens on stage isn't even half the real action - the good stuff is all whispered in the wings. So the show spent as much time focusing on what happened off-stage as on, and thus the backstage area became pretty iconic.
The notion of getting a backstage playset seemed like a pipe dream - the thing would have to be huge, and stores were already reluctant to carry the big items. And how would you ever fit a two-story building in a box? Never happen.
But it did.
Palisades managed to pack in pretty much everything any Muppet fan could want for this set. If we thought the kitchen playset was amazingly detailed, then this is just over-the-top. The "floor" of the playset actually sits more than 2" off the ground (or shelf or wherever you put it), and there's a raised pattern on the podium. Intricate!
The floor is sculpted to look like wooden planks, while most of the wall looks like wood paneling. There's a small desk in the front right corner, above which is the callbox, used to summon the performers from around the building. Against the rear wall stands a nifty gray radiator.
the entire set sits up a bit higher is that the "ground floor" was actually a few feet above street level, as evidenced by the exit door that is recessed a few steps down into the base. The doors won't actually open, but despite the fact that they're tucked away in a part of the set you'll almost never get a good look at, they're sculpted well enough that they look like they would.
To the left of the exit, we have the stairs leading up to the second floor. The wood paneling continues up to a green chair rail, with a white brick wall above that. There's a large junction box on the wall, and a sign pointing the way toward the dressing rooms.
Upstairs there are three excellently detailed doors,
with dark green frames, gold doorknobs and a star painted at eye level. Again, the doors don't open, but you wouldn't know that by looking at them. There's an old-style phone in the corner, and a ladder that probably leads to the pin rail. The brick pattern continues here, though the green rail is a bit lower than it was on the steps.
Considering the scale of this beast, there's not much room in the budget for accessories. We just get a coat rack, telephone, phonograph and a dressmaker's dummy. The coat rack is a bit flimsy, and may break in the box. The needle arm on the record player swings side to side, but the handle doesn't turn - don't try it, or you'll have a broken toy. There are four small lights that plug into spots on the walls, and eight posters/playbills promoting the show's schedule. Yes, the posters are cool, but there are only three spots for them on the walls, and they're not stickers anyway.
And, just in case that's not enough for you, the playset has plentiful little pegs from which you can hang all the other random accessories for your Muppet collection, really decorating the hell out of it.
The box the backstage is in is huge, but the set still needs to be assembled. The instructions are pretty vague, but you'll be able to figure it out. Once it's together, the piece measures 13" wide, 15" tall and 10 1/2" deep; better clear some space. All the nifty little accessories are taped in a baggie under the box, so don't throw them out.
This is an absolutely great playset, large enough to really pack in the figures. The only thing that even came close in the World of Springfield series was Main Street (or mabe the Collector's Lair), but this is much better.
Like the other playsets, this one came with an exclusive figure - one we'd all been waiting for since before Series 1 debuted. When Palisades was still hyping the line, they showed pictures of the prototype Rowlf figure, in all his furry glory. However, the only figure we ever got in the regular line was "Steppin' Out" Rowlf, who was wearing a tuxedo. So what ever happened to naked Rowlf? Turns out he's been hanging out backstage.
Along with Kermit, Rowlf was one of the very first Muppets ever created by young Jim Henson way back in the '50s. He was the first big star, and displayed an easygoing attitude not shared by many of his fellow Muppets. Though Kermit is the icon, Rowlf is the one who most closely mirrored his creator - Henson has the same laid-back demeanor as this shaggy brown dog, which is why Rowlf was (semi) retired after Henson's death in 1990.
Rowlf is 5 1/2" tall, and his great pear-shaped body is covered with sculpted fur. He only moves at the Big Five (well, that and his ears), and his arms have a slight bend - the better to play his piano with. Of course, the only way to get his piano is to buy the earlier version, but it's nice that this one is compatible.
So a great playset with the iconic version of one of the Muppet's biggest characters? Why wouldn't you buy this? yes, the price is high, but in this case it's worth it.
What's your all-time favorite playset? Tell us on our message board, the Loafing Lounge.