By Heidi Sutton
The children’s picture book Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems was an instant success when it was released in 2004 and won the Caldecott Honor in 2005. The story, based on the author’s 3-year-old daughter Trixie and her favorite stuffed animal, was followed by two sequels, Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity and Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion as well as an animated short film.
Now the Smithtown Performing Arts Center pays homage to the award-winning book with a children’s theater production of Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical. With script and lyrics by Mo Willems and music by Michael Silversher, it begins as Dad suggests that Mom take a trip to the spa while he takes their rambunctious pre-verbal daughter Trixie to the neighborhood laundromat. While Mom is hesitant, Dad insists he is up to the job. “It’s just one load of laundry. What could go wrong?”
Mom reminds Dad to make sure Trixie takes along her favorite stuffed animal, Knuffle Bunny, and the adventure begins.
Dad and Trixie walk through their neighborhood, through the park and into the laundromat. Dad decides to go home to fix Trixie a snack but as they head back to the house things take a dramatic turn when Trixie realizes she has lost Knuffle Bunny. Can she make Dad understand what’s wrong? Will he be able to save the day?
Expertly directed by Evan Donnellan with musical direction by Robbie Torries, the four-member cast does a flawless job conveying the funny, silly, engaging and fast-paced story.
Derek Hough, last seen on SPAC’s stage as Sebastian in The Little Mermaid, is incredible in the role of a clueless but well-meaning Dad and Alexa Oliveto shines in her role as the all-knowing Mom. Their duet “[Life Is] Tricky With Trixie” kicks off the show and sets the tone for a fun afternoon.
Cassidy Gill is wonderful in the role of a frustrated Trixie and plays her character with infinite energy. While Trixie desperately attempts to communicate with her solo “Aggle Flaggle Klabble” and acts out by going “boneless,” she surprises everyone at the end with her first real word. Can you guess what it is?
A versatile Ari Spiegel rounds out the cast and plays numerous supporting roles including a pigeon and a giant Knuffle Bunny.
A nice touch is the constantly changing screen in the background, from the exterior and interior of the family’s home to the laundromat and even a video of a fire truck driving by.
In the end, the show reminds us of the amazing lengths parents will go through for their children and that is worth the trip.
The Smithtown Performing Arts Center, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown presents Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical on Aug. 19 at 6 p.m., Aug. 20 at 2 p.m., Sept. 1 and 2 at 6 p.m. and Sept. 3 at 2 p.m. Running time is one hour with no intermission and snacks and drinks will be sold before the show. All seats are $18. To order, visit www.smithtownpac.org.