Everyone knows that an hour speeds by quickly when you’re having fun. In children’s theater, though, that isn’t always the case: what works for the teeny weenies often bores their parents to death. Yet this production of Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, is just delightful regardless of age: kids and parents alike will scarcely feel the passage of time. It’s a snappy and well paced show as directed by Nick Olcott.
That’s because this is such a funny and unexpectedly moving musical, with the professional polish Adventure Theatre MTC is renowned for. With a zippy script and lyrics by the book’s author, Mo Willems, and a sprightly score by Michael Silvershear, it pops and bops along, with humor and heart aplenty. The storyline is a simple one: toddler Trixie is never without her toy Knuffle Bunny, but when Dad takes her to the laundromat, Knuffle Bunny mysteriously vanishes along the way. Trixie can only talk baby babble, and her frustrations mount as her father tries to figure out what’s wrong. Can Dad understand his daughter, and even more importantly, find Knuffle Bunny?
As Dad, Scott Harrison plays a sweet but clueless father, but he’s not a simpleton- both actor and script prevent him from becoming a one-note sitcom dad. As Mom, Emily Zickler has a grand singing voice, beginning the show with her motherly lament, “Life is Tricky with Trixie”. Add to that her comic timing: when it turns out Knuffle Bunny has been left at the laundromat, her anguished cry of “We have to beat the spin cycle!” brought guffaws from the full house.
As Trixie the toddler, Suzanne Lane does overdo it in a few scenes, but she can be forgiven that- the actress throws a rather magnificent tantrum in a sort of Slavo-Germanic toddlerspeak. Her gibberish song, where she tries to tell her bewildered Dad that she misses Knuffle Bunny, is alternatively comical and full of pathos.
Suzanne Lane as Trixie in Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale at Adventure Theatre MTC (Photo: Michael Horan)
Production values here are above what you might expect: the set by Douglas Clark has a huge revolving wall inset into the New York brownstone exterior, and it’s highlighted nicely with some fine cityscape projections by Patrick Lord. The enormous machines of the laundromat are lifelike and well thought out- as Knuffle Bunny disappears in the washing machine, laundry rises and all we see are his plaintive little eyes beseeching us to save him. It’s a funny moment.
Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale
closes October 23, 2016
Details and tickets
And the choreography by Michael J Bobbitt (also the company’s Artistic Director) adds zip and flair to the fine musical numbers. But the real scene stealers are the puppets by Andre ‘Dre’ Moore- Dad becomes the hero of the day, battling ever-larger pieces of laundry, in his effort to extricate Knuffle Bunny from the machine. Huge shirts with waving arms, turbosized boxer shorts, and most hysterically, a gigantic pink bra swirl around him, til he triumphantly emerges, Knuffle Bunny in his arms. And not to give anything away, but Fire Hydrant Dog Walker Guy is a stroke of genius.
As a parent who once lost (and, thankfully, found) her son’s beloved Super Donut the Cat at a shopping mall, it’s a child’s worst nightmare to lose a beloved stuffed animal. This production portrays very-young Trixie’s perspective without being condescending, a tricky thing indeed.
Knuffle Bunny. Script & Lyrics: Mo Willems (based on the book Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems) . Music: Michael Silvershear . Director: Nick Olcott . Choreography: Michael J Bobbitt . Costume Designer: Robert Croghan . Scenic Design: Douglas Clark . Lighting Design: Brian S Allard . Sound Design: Neil McFadden . Music Director: Aaron Michael Broderick . Properties & Puppets Designer: Andre ‘Dre’ Moore . Projections Director: Patrick Lord . Stage Manager: Molly Raven Hopkins . Produced by Adventure Theatre MTC . Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.