Chicago Theatre Review
A Hit from the Heart
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
When a play speaks from the heart it can’t help be a hit, and Emerald City Theatre’s latest children’s offering hits it out of the park. Mo Willems’ series of three picture books about a little girl and her stuffed animal (which include the original story, plus Knuffle Bunny Too and Knuffle Bunny Free) have become bookstore best sellers and perennial story time favorites. Willems dramatized his first book with music composed by Michael Silversher. The result is a sweetly sincere story about the relationship between 16-month-old Trixie, her mom and
(particularly) her dad and a floppy stuffed rabbit called Knuffle Bunny.
The conflict begins when Daddy decides to give his wife a much-needed break by caring for Trixie while taking the family’s dirty clothes to the laundromat (a catchy little Latin infused production number called “Washy, Washy, Sudsy, Sudsy”). On their way back home, Trixie begins crying, throwing a tantrum and shrieking in her nonsense language, but Daddy has no idea what she wants. In fact, much of the musical’s comedy stems from her father’s inability to understand his daughter’s baby babbling, and Trixie’s temper tantrum becomes a hilarious opera parody called “Aggle Flaggle Klabble.” Daddy finally understands that Trixie is mourning her lost Knuffle Bunny, which has been left at the laundromat. He eventually saves the day by crawling into the washer, battling a Wonder Bra and other garments and retrieving the freshly laundered rabbit.
Director/choreographer Job Christianson has filled the stage with humorous business while moving the story along with energetic and well-executed choreography. Her five-member cast are all first-rate singers and dancers, with Bret Beaudry standing out as a thoroughly believable young father to Jamie Finkenthal’s adorably realistic Trixie. Those familiar with Willems’ illustrations will recognize the authentic details in Robert Kuhn’s gray and black brick set design and animated projections. Nathan R. Rhorer’s costumes also echo that attention to the author/illustrator’s art work throughout the production. And with a special appearance by the Pigeon who wants to drive the bus (another of Willems‘ children’s book creations), this 60 minute musical is the perfect Fall entertainment, sure to be a hit with the early elementary-aged theatre goer.
Emerald City Theatre
Performing at The Apollo Theatre
2540 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago
Box Office 773-529-2690
Runs October 6-January 6