Interview: John Tartaglia on Bringing Broadway to FRAGGLE ROCK

Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock returns to Apple TV+ on March 29.

By: Mar. 27, 2024
Interview: John Tartaglia on Bringing Broadway to FRAGGLE ROCK
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John Tartaglia is heading back to Fraggle Rock for a new season of Apple TV's beloved reboot!

As the newly-appointed Creative Supervisor of the Fraggle Rock Franchise at The Jim Henson Company, the Tony-nominee returns for the series' second season. Joining him as guest stars as Ariana DeBose, Daveed Diggs, and more. Tony-nominee Lilli Cooper is also returning as Doc.

Ahead of the new season, BroadwayWorld sat down with Tartaglia to discuss what to expect from the new season, the differences between puppeteering for stage versus screen, and bringing Jim Henson's work to Broadway.

We're going "back to the rock" again for the second season of this new Fraggle Rock series. How are you feeling now that it's sort of coming back?

It feels like Christmas morning a little bit to me. We started shooting the second season last year, so like it's been a daily part of my life for the past year and a half, and now it's like, "Oh my gosh, everyone gets to finally see it." I have to like resist the urge to post spoilers. I get so excited. I just love watching people be so happy from it, you know?

This was a childhood dream for you to be involved with the series. When you're walking around set, is it surreal for you? What has this experience been like for you?

It's a rare day if I don't have a moment of awe. It's easy to start to get into the grind of it and the work of it. I find with this show, there's such joy on the set, and we have such a good time making the show, that it's easy to remember that it's like, "Oh wait, we're all here because of this original series that we all grew up with. We're getting thisbeyond rare chance to continue it on."

I mean, I would have what I would call my "Crying Days," which would be where I just get emotional out of nowhere. I'd be setting something up with Red Fraggle, who was my favorite character as a kid, and then be like, "It's Red Fraggle. We're doing this."

I think as a theater performer, that show really inspired me, not just as a puppeteer, not just as a television work performer, but as a theater performer, it's a really theatrical show. It ties together everything I love to do, so it was a very daily, surreal, and emotional experience.

Interview: John Tartaglia on Bringing Broadway to FRAGGLE ROCK
Tartaglia on the set of Fraggle Rock

As you mentioned, the series means a lot to a lot of people. Is there a certain amount of fan service or responsibility that you feel while you're working on the series?

I feel like I'm in the lucky position of sometimes when someone gets to reboot a show they might have had an awareness of it but they maybe weren't like a committed fan to it and I feel like I'm so lucky I'm in this position because I am and was and will always be such a fan of the original series that it's almost like whenever we would talk about rethinking something or reimagining something, I always had this little seven-year-old Johnny voice in me that was either super excited about it or there's a little voice in me that was like, "Let's talk about that." I feel like what I've been so lucky about with the team when we all work together is that there's such a mutual respect for that. We really want to honor the original, but keep it fresh and new and relevant to today's kids.

A kid watching in 1983, their sense of pace and their sense of humor and their sense of everything was very different than 2024. So it's trying to keep that in mind but never going away from why people love the show. If we all of a sudden decided to have Red be a blues singer, that would not be right for the character. So we really tried to make sure that we always stayed true to the story and the characters and then from there we could kind of dream a little bit bigger.

It's definitely something that I feel a great responsibility for, for sure. There's that little Johnny voice in the back of me that's like, "Are you okay with this?" But I feel like I really do, I think everyone wants to make it feel like it's just a continuation of what people loved about the original.

Speaking of that update for the current day, we also have guest stars like Arianna DeBose and Daveed Diggs in the series. What is it like having some of your Broadway pals on the show?

It's great. It's funny because it's like I feel like there's this secret Fraggle Rock club that's gotten revealed. All these people that I didn't know that they were such huge fans of the show until this the reboot happened. So when Ariana came on, she was like "Do you understand how big of a deal this is? I'm so excited." And this was right before she was gonna host all the awards shows. She was more excited about Fraggle Rock than I expected. It was so great to see that. Daveed is just the coolest guy in the world. I've always loved him as a performer on stage and then to see his like dedication to playing this character, Jamdolin, and he's like, "This is the world I want to play in all the time."

Then, some of our puppeteers like Amy Garcia, we were in Avenue Q together, has gone on to be this amazing star with Into the Woods and Les Mis and everything. Ben Durocher, he played Princeton in Avenue Q after I did it. There's this weird mesh of like Broadway theater world and television. These '80s childhood kids all coming together.

It's really great when we can talk about that side of it. To be able to chat with Daveed about Hamilton in between takes and stuff like that, it's fun.

Interview: John Tartaglia on Bringing Broadway to FRAGGLE ROCK
Tartaglia on the Fraggle Rock set

Switching gears a little bit, you've had so much experience doing puppetry on stage, on Broadway. I can imagine it's a different experience than doing it on screen. What are the differences like for you?

On camera, you have one point of view. You have just the lens that's shooting that scene. Everything you do is designed to please that. So that's why we watch the television monitor while we puppeteer. If you watch us on set, we're not looking at each other like we would on stage. We're looking down at monitors that are on the ground so that we can see exactly what the camera sees, so we can play to that. So we're kind of helping the director compose the shot, but also if Gobo looks right at the lens and talks to the camera for some reason, I can see exactly what that looks like so I can make sure it lands.

But when you're on stage, in like an Avenue Q, for example, there were there were 800-something points of view. You had to make choices that would read for everybody, no matter where they were sitting, which which changes the way you do something. A really subtle movement that you might do on camera, I don't know if Gobo's deep in thought about something and maybe he would do just a little head turn that would read on camera as like super like pensive. On a Broadway stage, it's gonna look like nothing. You'd have to kind of make a bigger, more universal choice. So I think that's probably the biggest difference. And just the fact that on stage, we're not looking at monitors, so we can have that kind of more one-on-one interaction, which you don't get on TV and film.

It's funny, someone just asked me if I liked one better than the other. I actually struggle with that desperately because I love that with TV and film, you can redo it. You can fix it. You can do like as many takes as it takes to get it right. And you can sculpt that. That's kind of fun. But I also love, as a person who loves a live audience, that loves to hear laughter, you get that one chance on stage and you either nail it or you don't. So I don't know. I think they're both very different, but they both bring a joy in a different way.

I know you're very busy, but would you have any ideas on bringing puppets and Jim Henson's work back to the stage in any way? Is there a dream project that you would love to work on?

I can't say too much, but there are some of those things in the works. Something that people don't know is that Jim had such an appreciation for theatre and for Broadway. He actually was developing projects that he was hoping to someday get to Broadway, get to New York theater, that just never happened. So there's always been this desire with his family and with the company to somehow make that come true. So I can't say much, but I'll say that like there are some fun things in the works. I have my own personal like dream of that happening in a certain way. I hope that that happens because it would be literally the blend of the two greatest loves I have in one place, which would be amazing.

Interview: John Tartaglia on Bringing Broadway to FRAGGLE ROCK
Tartaglia in the Fraggle Rock recording studio

Finishing up, what else can we expect from this new season of Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock?

I feel like between Catherine O'Hara, Ariane DeBose, Daveed Diggs, Adam Lambert, Espa, our amazing music group, ESPA, we have such an incredible roster of talent and they were such fans of the first season that they all jumped in times a hundred. So I feel like we took all of those elements up a huge notch. We kind of wanted to make this season epic in scale as far as the adventures that the characters go on and the places we go and just the kind of television we were able to make in 2024, but also emotionally. I think that, right now, the world is a very difficult place to be in as an adult. So as a kid, especially, they're seeing so much and they're hearing so much and there's so much pressure on them. 

We wanted to make this season about looking forward with hope and with positivity and with optimism because I think that a lot of kids aren't given that. They're being told about how horrible things are. I think Fraggle Rock has always been, for me, an escape. As a divorced kid, as a kid going through a lot of emotional things when I was younger, it was my escape. It really did give me kind of a moral compass on how to look at the world in a more positive way. We feel even more responsibility now to give that to kids of today.

Overall, we just kind of said like, "Okay, we know that people love the show. Let's take the things that everyone loves and amp it up a little bit and make the adventures even more exciting and make the characters even more engaging." We brought out some things this season with certain characters that are certain parts of their personalities that maybe you haven't seen before. I think that's going to be really fun. 

Watch the trailer for the new season of Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock here: