Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Review of Emerald City Theatre's Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical. The script and lyrics were by Mo Willems and the music was by Michael Silversher. It was directed and choreographed by Aileen McGroddy. It was about a toddler named Trixie (Deanalís Resto) who went to the laundromat with her dad (Matt Miles) and her stuffed animal, Knuffle Bunny. In their excitement she accidentally leaves Knuffle Bunny at the laundromat. The caution in the cautionary tale is listen to your toddler and make sure you have everything before you leave. It is about parental anxiety, security, and the beauty of the everyday through a young person's eyes. I thought some of the songs were very charming and the performances were strong.

My favorite song was "AggleFlaggleKlabble" in which Trixie laments the loss of her one true love, Knuffle Bunny, with dream ballet included with large full body Knuffle Bunny puppet (designed by Angela McIlvain) played by Ayanna Bria Bakari, with backup dancers with candelabras (Jar'Davion Brown and Emilie Modaff). It was hilarious because the tune sounds like a love ballad off a Whitney Houston album, but when the words begin they are gibberish. Trixie was miming a lot and when the giant Knuffle Bunny comes out on stage it just took it to the next level of hilarity. I was dying. But it was also kind of sad because you can see Trixie overflowing with emotion over her loss. It is amazing how much meaning Resto could put into gibberish.

I do feel like the musical adds something that is not in the book that was strange to me. I think it is great that the musical makes the mom (Abby Murray Vachon) a more central figure, but it also makes the dad seem a lot more incompetent. He doesn't seem to know how babies work: how they get upset at loud noises a lot of the time and they cannot always keep track of their own things or express themselves clearly. The play seemed to be saying, "Oh, its fine. The mom can just take care of the real parenting." That is an unhelpful idea in my opinion. Some kids only have one parent, but if they are fortunate enough to have two, they should be able to count on both of their parents for help when they need it. I don't think it is a healthy thing in society that we let the dad off the hook for some of the work of parenting. I feel like, in the book, when he makes a mistake he learns faster from it. I realize they basically had to fill an entire play with his mistake, but I feel like they could have made it so that he seemed a little more knowledgeable about how to take care of Trixie in general. I think the actor did a really great job making him seem like as good of a father as he could with the script. I think it is really a problem with the translation from book to musical not with the performance.

I love how excited Trixie is about the world. It was so adorable when she found a pigeon (puppeted by Brown) who wanted to befriend her who was the pigeon from another Mo Willem's book, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. That was a fun reference for people who had read that book. And Trixie seems so mesmerized by the pigeon and it was so fun to watch. At the beginning of the song "Washy Washy" the laundromat sign glowed in the distance and the laundromat turned into a discotheque. I think that was a really good way of representing how a lot of children get excited about everyday things that adults sometimes don't notice the fun in or how they could make it fun. I don't see the beauty in all those things anymore, but it was really nice to see that feeling represented in a play. It was so cool to watch the kids in the audience discover the beauty of theater while they were watching Trixie discover the beauty of the world

People who would like this show are people who like the beauty of pigeons, disco laundromats, and Knuffle Bunny dream ballets. I think this show is really great for young children but can also be very nostalgic and fun for teens and adults.

Photos: Austin D. Oie

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