By Heidi Sutton
For too short a time, Mo Willem’s Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! flies off its pages and takes roost on the grounds of the Smithtown Historical Society in a children’s musical production by the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts that is too cute for words!
Written in 2003, it was Willems’ first book for children, and received the Caldecott Honor the following year. The book’s appeal was that it spoke to the reader throughout the story as a bus driver asks the audience to not let the pigeon drive the bus while he has to step away for a moment. The remainder of the story is the pigeon pleading with the reader to let him drive the bus … until he sees a semi-trailer truck.
While Willems went on to write many more Pigeon books, his debut novella was turned into a musical in 2019 and now comes to life in Smithtown through Sept. 17.
Directed by Evan Donnellan, with musical direction by Robbie Torres, the 6-member cast embrace this clever script and jazzy score and run with it.
The pigeon has a complaint. He never gets to do anything. When the park gets a new bus stop, he gets his first glimpse at the beautiful shiny bus and … he wants to drive it! As passengers board the bus, the pigeon begs and pleads but the bus driver won’t give in. When the bus suddenly won’t start and all the passengers begin to panic, the pigeon realizes he just might get a chance to do something after all.
Uber talented Derek Hough is perfectly cast as the pigeon. Every line, song and dance number is executed perfectly and he quickly becomes an audience favorite who complains about the lack of adventure in his life. When the pigeon is tasked with flying to all the other bus stops on the route to tell them the bus is running late, Hough runs through the audience and relays the message to all of the young children, a highlight of the show.
Gabrielle Arroyo shines as the enthusiastic bus driver who boasts that her bus, like all public transportation, must always be on time. (LOL) Her three passengers are terrific as well. Lorelai Mucciolo’s transformation into a little old lady who has a purse full of bird seed (and likes to throw it at the pigeon) is hilarious; Ari Spiegel as the high strung business man late for his first day at a new job is spot on; and Max Lamberg as a superhero-obsessed teenager who wants to catch the premiere of a new movie is excellent. Alexa Oliveto, as the “voice” of the bus engine, is tasked with delivering the silliest and hardest lines and does so with ease.
The songs, written by Mo Willems and Deborah Wicks La Puma, are catchy and fun with special mention to the fast-paced “Panic at the Bus Stop” and “Let Me Drive the Bus” and the melodramatic “What Could Have Been.” The set, painted in the same shades as the book, and the creative costumes by Ronald R. Green III tie the production together nicely. Catch a performance before it flies the coop.
The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts presents Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! The Musical! on the grounds of the Smithtown Historical Society, 239 E. Main St., Smithtown on various dates and times through Sept. 17. Running time is 50 minutes with no intermission. While folding chairs are available, theatergoers are welcome to bring blankets or chairs for seating and bathrooms are available on the premises. Tickets are $18 per person. To order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.