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Review: ‘Knuffle Bunny’ at Adventure Theatre MTC

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To the delight of children and children at heart, Adventure Theatre’s 2016/17 season kicked off yesterday with Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical.

Based on Mo Willem’s first Knuffle Bunny book, the musical follows Trixie and her father as they journey to a laundromat with Trixie’s beloved stuffed companion in tow. Drama and hilarity ensue when Knuffle Bunny gets left behind and the pre-verbal toddler Trixie is unable to make daddy understand the cause of her distress.

Emily Zickler (Mom), Scott Harrison (Dad), and Suzanne Lane (Trixie). Photo by Mike Horan.

Emily Zickler (Mom), Scott Harrison (Dad), and Suzanne Lane (Trixie). Photo by Mike Horan.

Adventure Theatre’s production rests in the capable and seasoned hands of Director Nick Olcott and Choreographer Michael J. Bobbitt. I enjoyed their work on last spring’s Floyd Collins (at 1st Stage) so I was eager to see what they did with Knuffle Bunny. True to form, Olcott and Bobbitt make grand use of small space. The Knuffle Bunny story plays out as Trixie and her dad walk from their Brooklyn brownstone to the neighborhood laundromat and with a cast of just five, a few simple props and a beautiful and efficient set (Douglas Clarke) Olcott and Bobbitt have recreated the hustle and bustle of an urban neighborhood.

Bobbitt’s choreography brings an extra dose of razzamatazz to this delightful story. Cleverly conceived dance moves turn the show’s big number “washy, washy” into a real show-stopper with of a cast of five people and laundry baskets.

The solid cast of five was led by Scott Harrison as Dad, Suzanne Lane as Trixie, and Emily Zickler as Mom. Harrison and Zickler started the show off right with strong vocal performances on the opening number “Tricky with Trixie.” Both actors quickly establish the family dynamics that underlie the humor in the story: Mom knows Trixie inside and out and dad is well-meaning but bumbling as he tries to get the hang of this parenting a toddler thing.

Suzanne Lane and Scott Harrison were the lynchpins of the show as Trixie and her dad and their comedic timing had my kids laughing out loud. Their increasing exasperation with each other on the walk home from the laundromat climaxed when Trixie “went boneless” and slid off the park bench in a perfectly timed bit of physical humor.

Suzanne Lane’s performance as Trixie the toddler was skillfully done. It would have been easy to overact the facial expressions and gestures of a two year-old but Lane strikes just the right balance. She also proved herself a master of gibberish. Her big solo number “Aggle Flaggle Klabble,” a song that Mo Willems intentionally wrote entirely in toddler gibberish, offered humorous insight into the mind of a disgruntled toddler.

The lighting and projections by Brian S. Allard and Patrick Lord also added to the intensity of the “Aggle Flaggle Klabble” number, heightening the drama by creating a dreamscape in which Trixie is spot lit center stage while a projected grand staircase appears behind her and a human sized Knuffle Bunny arrives in a pale purple light to dance with her.

The cast was completed by John Sygar and Simone Lewis, two “Puppeteers” who, through a series of quick costume changes, filled the urban streetscape with a variety of characters such as neighbors, dog walkers and mailmen.

Simone Lewis, Suzanne Lane, John Sygar, and Emily Zickler. Photo by Mike Horan.

Simone Lewis, Suzanne Lane, John Sygar, and Emily Zickler. Photo by Mike Horan.

John Sygar was impressed me so much in Floyd Collins that he made my spring/summer DCMTA Scene Stealer list. (He also received a Best Supporting Actor Helen Hayed nomination for his performance in Adventure Theatre’s Garfield: The Musical with Cattitude). I was excited to see what he did with this supporting role and once again, he proved to be a total scene-stealer. Without distracting from the main action onstage, Sygar’s supporting roles, whether as mailman, dog walker, ensemble dancer or, my favorite, giant pink dancing bra as the laundry came to life onstage, added immense interest and humor to the show.

The bright and colorful costume design, by Robert Croghan, is sure to catch the eye of even the most easily distractible toddler.

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical was commissioned by the Kennedy Center where it had its world debut in 2010. Mo Willems himself wrote the script and lyrics. Grammy Award-winning children’s composer Michael Silversher wrote the music.

Knuffle Bunny. Photo by Mike Horan.

Knuffle Bunny. Photo by Mike Horan.

No one taps into the inner workings of a toddler’s mind like Mo Willems and this incarnation of Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical brings Willem’s book to magical life.

Running Time: Approximately 60 minutes, with no intermission.

Knuffle Bunny plays through – at Adventure Theatre MTC – Glen Echo Park – 7300 MacArthur Boulevard, in Glen Echo, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 634-2270, or purchase them online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1550.gif  (But my daughters say it should be ten!)

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