|Pictured is Richard Cohn-Lee ("Dad"), Kayla Hughes ("Mom"), and Michaela Warren ("Trixie")|
By Tina Arth
Beaverton Civic Theatre is reaching out to a whole new demographic with their latest production, Mo Willems’ Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical. Since the Knuffle Bunny books emerged well after my active parenting days, I rounded up an eight-year-old neighbor to accompany me to the show and to share some age-appropriate insight. She is a smart, well-behaved kid and definitely great company for this adventure – but sadly, she doesn’t seem to have the makings of a theater critic. When I asked her after the show what she thought were the best things and what things could have been better, she happily informed me that she loved everything! When pressed, she did confess that it would have been nice if the part of Trixie (the central character) had been played by someone much younger – but since it’s a huge role and Trixie is supposed to be about 18 months old, we agreed that no actual baby could have handled the job!
For those of you new to the world of Knuffle Bunny, here’s the skinny: Dad and Mom are parents to Trixie, a stunningly lively toddler who has an extensive and colorful baby talk vocabulary, but hasn’t quite mastered expression in English. She adores Knuffle Bunny, her stuffed toy, and is desolate when separated from the rabbit. Dad (inept, as dads often are in children’s stories) resolves to take Trixie to the laundromat, and give Mom a few hours of peace and quiet. While at the laundromat, Knuffle Bunny is accidentally put in with the dirty clothes; when Trixie discovers that her toy is missing she is inconsolable, incessantly screaming “Aggle Flaggle Klabble” but unable to explain to Dad what is upsetting her. Mom, of course, saves the day. When the traumatized dad/daughter get home, Mom immediately sees the problem and asks (repeatedly) “Where is Knuffle Bunny?” Once Dad calms down enough to actually hear the question, he knows at once! They rush back to the laundromat, Dad bravely throws himself into the washer and after a Herculean struggle with panties, bras, socks, etc. he emerges from battle victoriously clutching the errant bunny. Overjoyed, Trixie yells “Knuffle Bunny” – her first actual words!
Richard Cohn-Lee (“Dad”) struck me at first as ridiculously over-the-top. However, a few minutes in it struck me: he is not just playing a role, he’s playing it in the exaggerated style a parent uses to bring life to a funny story when reading to a young child. The reaction of the kids in the audience makes it clear that he is hitting exactly the right note. In response to his panicked “where did Trixie go?” a little girl in front of me pointed stage right and cried out “that way!” When he chases after Trixie in the aisles, kids all around the theater crane their necks to catch every slapstick moment. He is particularly funny when he envisions himself as a rock star, playing air guitar like Pete Townsend on steroids, but he manages to rein it in and express genuine emotion in the touching “Really, Really Love You.”
Kayla Hughes (“Mom”) is the show’s straight man, and she does a fine job of portraying the long-suffering, exhausted, but super-competent parent. She has a lovely voice that is occasionally drowned out by the music track – something that can be easily fixed with a little modulation in the sound booth.
The real star (other than the bunny, of course) is Michaela Warren as “Trixie.” This is an amazingly demanding role for a young girl, and she simply nails it – I expect to see her time and again in local theater productions! A sparkling moment in her performance is the poignant “Aggle Flaggle Klabble,” a song composed entirely of nonsense syllables that nonetheless expresses her complete despair at having lost her beloved Knuffle Bunny. I am in awe of her ability to learn the hundreds of lines, when only the final moments of the show allow her to speak English!
As is appropriate for a children’s storybook, the set is minimal. A few large cubes double as planters and washing machines (Cohn-Lee’s foes in the heart-pounding rescue scene and props for the hysterical antics and vocals of the laundromat chorus).
Director Melissa Riley and Music Director Beth Noelle are bringing something new and wonderful to Beaverton Civic’s repertoire – theater appropriate and captivating for even the youngest audiences. The family-friendly nature of the show is enhanced by the $5.00 ticket price, and the single act runs less than an hour, so kiddos with short attention spans don’t have time to get restless (or need to use the bathroom!). This is a “can’t miss” show for parents or grandparents of young children, and with only a two-week run tickets are selling fast!
Beaverton Civic Theatre’s production of Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical has three performances on Saturday, April 16th with shows at 11:00 am, 1:00 pm, and 3:00 pm at the Beaverton City Library Auditorium.