Making Magic with Big Bird

Brandon Wagner takes the role of Big Bird seriously, knowing his character has brought happiness to kids since the “Sesame Street” TV show first went on the air 50 years ago.

Wagner has performed as Big Bird in over 250 shows since 2018 as “Sesame Street Live! Make Your Magic” has played at arenas across the country. Big Bird will be joined by other favorite “Sesame Street”characters like Elmo, Grover and Cookie Monster in two performances at the Peoria Civic Center on Sunday, Jan. 26.

No stranger to entertaining the young, Wagner, a 30-year-old Los Angeles native, started as a stilt-walker and puppeteer at Disneyland at the age of 19.

After a stint at the Magic Kingdom, he spent four years performing on board Disney cruise ships in different roles.

“There wasn’t much need for a stilt-walker on a cruise ship,” Wagner noted.

He came by his present position after attending an audition for a live show with the Marvel Universe, another Disney enterprise. While he didn’t wind up on the Marvel team, Wagner caught the eye of a “Sesame Street Live” director. Before long, he was traveling the country as Big Bird.

It’s a part Wagner is very familiar with. “I grew up watching ‘Sesame Street’ on TV. At the age of four, I was telling random strangers that I had a ‘Sesame Street’ tape,” he laughed.

Wagner enjoys the traveling–by bus and plane–involved with the live show, noting that, when he’s not performing, he takes the time to capture highlights of different locales on video that he shares with family and friends.
“There’s a message for kids and adults who get captivated by the show,” he said.

“Sesame Street Live! Make Your Magic” explores the magical qualities of everyday  life, said Wagner. “With Big Bird, shadows come to life,” he said. Other “Sesame Street” characters explore their own magic in the live show such as Abby Cadabby, who experiences the transformative abilities of caterpillars, and Cookie Monster, who uncovers the science and fun of baking.

While Wagner must mimic Big Bird’s mannerisms and maneuver the eight-foot costume through high-energy dance routines, he doesn’t have to reproduce Big Bird’s distinct voice. “All our character dialogue is recorded so that audiences hear what they’re familiar with,” he said.

Big Bird was voiced and played by the late Caroll Spinney for nearly 50 years. Spinney retired in 2018 when Matt Vogel took over the Big Bird role on the television program.

Wagner looks forward to performing in central Illinois. “I’ve never been to Peoria; I’m excited to visit,” he said.
Meet-and-greet opportunities for central Illinois “Sesame Street” fans will be available an hour before both Peoria performances, added Wagner. “For a small upcharge, you get to meet the characters up close,” he said. 

Tickets for “Sesame Street Live! Make Your Magic: start at $15. All seats are reserved, and tickets are available at the Peoria Civic Center box office or online
 For group rates and information, call 309-680-3551.