The joys of having young children are innumerable. For book lovers, though, the ability to indulge in children’s literature without explanation is near the top of the list. For book-loving parents who also love musical theatre, it doesn’t get much better than a musical from Mo Willems, a much-accoladed author and illustrator.
Playing at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Family Theatre through January 5, 2020, “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (The Musical!)”—a world premiere that’s based on the Caldecott Award-winning 2003 picture book of the same name—is nothing short of pure delight, even as it tackles one of the harder lessons a parent has to teach their child: You can’t always get what you want, no matter how bad you want it.
In this new musical, the pigeon (played by Christopher Michael Richardson, a talented fellow with expert puppeteering skills, likely helped by Scottie Rowell, puppet director) is thwarted from the very beginning. He wants—nay, he needs—a hot dog, but goshdarnit, that pesky vendor (Evan Casey) just won’t give him one. A pigeon, he cries, just never gets what he wants. It’s not just the hot dog that’s out of the pigeon’s reach, though; there’s a shiny, big, fabulous bus (no, it’s really big and fabulous, thanks to set designer Daniel Conway) that no one will let the pigeon drive!
It’s not easy to write a script that draws both giggles from children and guffaws from adults, but if anyone can do it, Willems can.
At the helm of the shiny, big, fabulous bus is The Bus Driver (Felicia Curry, who is charismatic, charming and over the top in the best possible way), who takes her bus-driving duties very seriously. (There’s a number of jokes regarding public transportation that will go over kids’ heads, but have the adults chuckling.) With the important job of ensuring that no one is ever late when riding on public transportation, The Bus Driver is panicked when the bus won’t start. (Erika Rose, the “voice,” if you will, of the bus engine is, for the lack of a better term, hysterical.) Also panicked by the thought of being late are the three passengers, a birdseed-loving little old lady (Tracy Lynn Olivera), a very important business guy (Evan Casey again) and a superhero-obsessed teenager (Hasani Allen).
The artistic team behind this world-premiere musical also includes Jerry Whiddon as the director, Jessica Hartman as choreographer and William Yanesh as music director, as well as puppet fabrication by Carole D’Agostino (the pigeon isn’t the only puppet; a duckling and oversized puppy make appearances, too).
It’s not easy to write a script that draws both giggles from children and guffaws from adults, but if anyone can do it, Willems can. There’s a reason, after all, that Willems was tapped as The Kennedy Center’s first Education Artist in Residence. However, a successful production can’t rest on a fantastic script (which “Pigeon” has written by Willems and collaborator Tom Warburton), it requires both quality talent both on the stage and behind the scenes. Thankfully, “Pigeon” has that in spades.
Running Time: 60 minutes, no intermission.
“Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus! (The Musical!)” runs through January 5, 2020, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Family Theater, 2700 F Street NW, Washington, DC. For tickets and more information, visit The Kennedy Center’s website.