With laundry baskets in hand, actors rehearse a musical number from “Knuffle Bunny,” which is set at a laundromat, at the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine. Mikayla Patel / The Forecaster

Popular children’s author Mo Willems’ musical adaptation of his “Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale” premieres later this month at Maddy’s Theatre at the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine.

The musical is about toddler Trixie and her dad and their trip to the laundromat, where Trixie loses her treasured stuffed animal, Knuffle Bunny.

“At its core, ‘Knuffle Bunny’ is about family, love, doing our best even when it’s hard, and finding ways to communicate our big feelings,” said Joshua Chard, the show’s director. “Mo Willems is a rock star among the elementary school set, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to translate his story from the page to the stage.”

Willems is also the author and illustrator of the “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” series, along with dozens of other books.

A teacher at Portland’s East End Community School, Chard is the 2024 Maine Teacher of the Year. He and his husband, Bob Gauthier, musical director of the production, are celebrated in the southern Maine theater community for their diverse musical theater productions.

A rehearsal for “Knuffle Bunny,” a musical based on the children’s book by Mo Willems. Mikayla Patel / The Forecaster

“Joshua has this amazing ability to tap into the hearts and minds of young people, and while laughing, children and adults alike are learning about themselves and the world around them,” said Reba Askari, the theater’s artistic director. “I’m in awe and so grateful that CMTM will be able to share this beloved story with the community through Joshua and Bob’s expert care and vision.”


The show is made up of eight adult actors.

“Maddy’s Theatre has committed to paying actors hourly to rehearse and to perform,” Chard said. “It makes the environment feel really professional.”

The show brings with it some unique set and technical challenges, he said, including the use of puppetry and 7- to 8-foot tall laundry props, featured in a battle scene between the dad and the laundry to try to rescue Knuffle Bunny for Trixie.

The character of Trixie is 3 years old and doesn’t talk, making it challenging to figure out how to have an adult “play the role of a toddler in a way that’s respectful and doesn’t feel like it’s making fun of kids,” Chard said.

“We’re not dumbing down theater for children, and we want it to be entertaining to adults because they’re the ones buying the tickets,” he said.

The production also uses projected backdrop scenery. While the original story takes place in Brooklyn, New York, this performance has been readapted to be set in Portland, with local scenery and landmarks throughout that kids will recognize.


Production manager Emily Dixon said good children’s theater “allows the people involved to tap into their inner kid again, and allows adults in the audience to tap into that joy with their kids. Seeing adults fall in love with theater through their kids is really beautiful.”

“We’re so lucky to have such an incredible group of artists working with us,” Dixon said. The sense of team and family in this show in particular is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.”

Gauthier issued one warning about the show, however.

“There are songs in the show that people will leave and not be able to get out of their heads. We sing them around our house,” he said, laughing. “You wake up in the morning singing ‘Washy Washy.'”

“You’ll think of it every time you do laundry,” Dixon said.

“It’s a beautiful story of a father going to extreme lengths for his daughter, and for Trixie, it’s about how to communicate when you don’t have the words,” she said.

“Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical” features an ensemble of eight adult actors: Matthew Butcher, Kristen Gilhooly, Brie Roche, Juliet Moniz, Caleb Eugley, Isabelle Grignon, Candice Gosta and Prophett. Performances are scheduled from Jan. 26 to Feb. 25, 2024. Showtimes and ticket information can be found at kitetails.org/knufflebunny.

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