Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
During the year-end holiday season, the Kennedy Center Theater for Young Audiences in Washington is presenting a shiny musical entertainment that is fun for children age 5 and up, clever enough that adults will enjoy it too, and only an hour long.
Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (The Musical!), in this Kennedy Center-commissioned world premiere production, was adapted by award-winning children's author and illustrator Mo Willems (also the center's first-ever Education Artist-in-Residence) from elements of several of his books. All six of the versatile cast members have either been nominated for or received the Helen Hayes Award and the director, Jerry Whiddon, has worked extensively in the area for decades.
The plot is simple enough. The Pigeon (a puppet operated by Christopher Michael Richardson) is frustrated at not being able to do anything he wants, to the point where he asks, "Can birds have an existential crisis?" Then the Bus Driver (Felicia Curry) appears through the window of her two-dimensional bus, in a pristine white uniform and "officially official" cap, ecstatic about her perfect on-time record. Her passengers (Evan Casey, Tracy Lynn Olivera, Hasani Allen) are determined that she get them to their destinations in a prompt manner. But there's a problem with the buscan the Pigeon help? And don't forget Erika Rose, who plays several roles, including providing the sound of the bus engine.
If that description makes the show sound silly and preachy, it is neither. Willems created the book and lyrics with writing partner Mr. Warburton, while Deborah Wicks La Puma's score incorporates a surprising range of musical influences. The actors remain visible while manipulating the puppets directed by Scottie Rowell, so part of the fun is seeing how they channel their facial expressions and emotions into their characters.
Apart from this production, Willems has worked with app developer Zappar to create an interactive "Tour the Kennedy Center" app. The Pigeon acts as a personal tour guide as visitors explore the grounds, scan codes placed on signs at nine points of interest in the 17acre indoor-outdoor campus, and access interactive trivia. (Warning: don't let him get away with making up facts!)
Kennedy Center Family Theater