Knuffle Bunny pairs a well-meaning Dad with an active, rambunctious pre-talking youngster, and depicts the tender moments of unconditional love as well as absolute bafflement between the two.
Parents, guardians and caregivers will relate to Trixie’s steps as she waddles, babbles and reaches to explore the world around her, with her trusted knuffle bunny at her side. Dad is sure that he can handle a simple chore with Trixie, going to the Laundromat down the block. How hard can it be, right? Giving Mom a few hours to herself, the super confident Dad starts on a fun stroll with his adorable daughter, who plays with a plucky bird along the way, but once they leave the laundry, something goes terribly wrong, and sweet, fun-loving Trixie morphs into a screaming, inconsolable, incomprehensibly wretched being. What happened? Thankfully, Mom has returned and has a clue so off they go to make things right, beginning and ending with knuffle bunny.
As expected of a national touring company, all of the actors are great fits for their parts. Tia Shearer is a show-stopping Trixie, so perfectly cast that she’s on her second tour with the role. Her childlike mannerisms and sounds are perfect and she’s mesmerizing to watch as she exudes all the nuances of a babbling youngster, rolling and tumbling in her own little world. In one hilarious sketch, she strikes a sophisticated pose in front of a standing mike, wears a boa like a French chanteuse, sings her woes out to the cosmos to share the inner feelings of a tormented soul, but all in baby gobbly gook, so poor Dad, try as he might still doesn’t have a clue.
Paul Edward Hope plays Trixie’s hapless, dynamic, super-charged, confident, deliriously lost, loveable and caring father. With his strong baritone voice and physical dynamism, Hope relayed the joys and agonies of that pairing. His Dad turns from high strutting super-confident fixer to standing by helplessly as his little girl wails in misery, all with heart-felt intensity. He brings you into the moment and you feel his pain in the nicely rendered segments.
Brittany Baratz is a locally trained star and she plays the Mom like a seasoned pro. She gently urges Dad to reconsider if he’s up to the task with her opening number, “Life is Tricky with Trixie,” and only after much persuasion, finally let’s go, reappearing at just the right time, as Moms have a knack of doing, to help fix a knuffle mishap at the end. Baratz has the voice, the range and reassuring manner to assure that all will be well when the bunny seems hopelessly misplaced, contributing to the show’s tender touch.
The technological sophistication starts with the video projections designed by Ryan Wineinger depicting the planet, North America, then zeroing in on a Manhattan skyline, all the way down to a brownstone in Brooklyn.
Only the best is expected at the Kennedy Center and they deliver with fun and precision. For example, the music is by Grammy Award winner Michael Silversher, the visual projection perfectly fits the actual door to enter the brownstone, and neat props abound depicting a laundromat, washing machines, and well –equipped puppets.
And there are puppets galore in this production, scenic and puppet design by Misha Kachman, adding an extra level of make-believe as puppeteers Jonathan Atkinson and Andrea Washington sing and dance while operating stick figures of birds and clothes, a life-size version of the treasured toy and even a gigantic sized football outfit for special fun effect, all expertly directed by Rosemary Newcott, and delightfully choreographed by D.C’s own Paige Hernandez.
True to the storybook, Knuffle Bunny captures a wonderfully dynamic premise of a toddler on the brink of self-expression and shares her excitement of a loving, perplexing world.
Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical
Based on Book by Mo Willems
Script and lyrics by Willems
Directed by Rosemary Newcott
Produced by Kennedy Center Family Theater
Reviewed by Debbie MinterJackson
Running time: 70 minutes