At Adventure Theatre, ‘Knuffle Bunny’ by Mo Willems is a swift romp for all ages

I thought I was bringing my children to a musical just for them, but the show validates the feelings of worn-out parents too.

I’ve been reviewing shows for DC Theater Arts since 2017. I’ve had a love affair with the theater since age 5. And on a sweltering day in 2024, a dream was realized: For the first time I took my whole family, both my young daughters, to a show I was reviewing. Be still my heart.

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical is based on a Mo Willems classic about the mishaps of a Brooklyn dad and his daughter Trixie when Trixie’s beloved stuffy Knuffle Bunny gets left at the laundromat. As directed by Angelisa Gillyard at Adventure Theatre MTC in Glen Echo, Maryland, it gets the Theater for Young Audiences treatment in a swift 45-minute romp.

The cast of ‘Knuffle Bunny’: Ingrid Bork (Puppeteer), Sally Imbriano (Mom), Ariel Friendly (Trixie), Trenton Beavers (Dad), and Julia Link (Puppeteer). Photo by Alan Kayanan.

This Northern Virginian mom did not know the “six-minute” walk from the parking lot to the theater — through the (normally beautiful and charming) Glen Echo Park past the aquarium, some yurts, and a beautiful merry-go-round — would be hell realized when my three-year-old had a four-alarm meltdown after two minutes of walking. (I’m sure the record-breaking heat didn’t help.) We arrived early. I hustled. I hurried. I tried to negotiate with her. But we still got to the box office about three minutes late (the last patrons in their seats, of course) after I carried her in like a 30-pound flailing football. I was sweaty. I was irritated. I was frazzled. Honestly, I was on the verge of tears. This was not the dream I imagined.

But then lights came up on Adventure Theatre’s Knuffle Bunny and the opening song “Life Is Tricky with Trixie” began. It consists of Mom (played by a grounded and warm Sally Imbriano) warning Dad (Trenton McKenzie Beavers) about what will no doubt be a challenging day ahead as he prepares to tote their toddler Trixie (Ariel Friendly) solo to the laundromat. Dealing with toddlers is harder than it looks, says Mom. Art imitating life or life imitating art? I don’t know. But in this musical that features dancing bunnies and giant laundry, I felt seen. I thought I was bringing my children to a show just for them but it turns out Knuffle Bunny validates the feelings of worn-out parents too. Sniff.

Ariel Friendly (Trixie) and Trenton Beavers (Dad) in ‘Knuffle Bunny.’ Photo by Alan Kayanan.

The arena-style seating at Adventure Theatre is perfect for patrons of both full-grown and pint-sized heights, ensuring everyone gets a great view of the action. The stationary set designed by Megan Holden is accented with projections by Hailey LaRoe and lighting design by Lynn Joslin that convey location and even thoughts of some of the characters. The design and production were truly superb. Sound levels by Brandon Cook were reliable. Props and puppets by Aiden Galbraith and Andrea “Dre” Moore respectively were creative and wielded with precision by puppeteers Julia Link and Ingrid Bork. Both ensemblists added energy, joy, and humor to the production. Ariel Friendly conveys toddler Trixie’s wonder and deep emotion without the benefit of language. Her wide eyes and comedic timing do the work. No one hustled harder on this stage than Trenton McKenzie Beavers as Dad. He holds down the majority of the dialogue while also providing a showstopping performance in “Washy Washy.” He then delivers one of the most touching moments in the show, “Really, Really Love You,” where he expresses vulnerability in his frustration of trying to understand Trixie. He immediately apologizes and seeks to reconnect after losing his temper. He doesn’t know why Trixie is upset, and he’s not exactly an intuitive parent, but he loves her and he is doing his best.

The show was well cast, has a creative well-used set, good pacing, and delivered both laughs and tears. It was great. No notes.

While this was our family’s first foray to Adventure Theatre, it won’t be our last. This was a theater experience that marries the excellence I’ve come to expect from DC-area professional theaters with an experience completely built for kids. Though my three-year-old was not happy upon arrival, she sure was happy during the show. Both kids were enraptured with the story, production design, music, actors, and of course, bubbles. If you have a Mo Willems fan in your clan, don’t miss this. It’s an excellent first show for kids, and even if they melt down en route to the theater, trust me, they will definitely be glad they went.

Running Time: 50 minutes, with no intermission.

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical plays through August 18, 2024, at Adventure Theatre MTC (ATMTC), 7300 MacArthur Blvd, Glen Echo, MD. See the schedule to plan and purchase tickets. Tickets (general admission, all ages, $25) are available online or by calling the box office at 301-634-2270.

Recommended for all ages.

COVID Safety: Masks are currently optional for Adventure Theatre for most performances.

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical
Based on the Caldecott Honor-winning book by Mo Willems
Book and Lyrics by Mo Willems
Music by Michael Silversher
Directed by Angelisa Gillyard

CAST
Trixie: Ariel Friendly
Mom: Sally Imbriano
Dad: Trenton Beavers
Puppeteer and Mom Understudy: Julia Link
Puppeteer: Ingrid Bork
Swing and Dad Understudy: Sylvern Grooms Jr.
Swing and Trixie Understudy: Mollie Greenberg

PRODUCTION CREW
Directo: Angelisa Gillyard
Choreographer: Maurice Johnson
Music Director: Elisa Rosman
Set Designer: Megan Holden
Light Designer: Lynn Joslin
Sound Designer: Brandon Cook
Puppet Designer: Andrea “Dre” Moore
Props Designer: Aiden Galbraith
Projections Designer: Hailey LaRoe
Costume Designer: Bailey Hammett
Stage Manager: Sam Linc
Assistant Stage Manager: Mary Doebel
Production Manager: Michael Burgtorf
Technical Director: Jacob Penland
Assistant Production Manager / Scenic Charge: Dom Ocampo

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