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It's a fact: Washing machines can be ornery and scary, churning monsters that eat socks and spew suds. They attack your best shirt. "Normal Wash?" Hah! No such thing.

Ask Dad, 2-year old Trixie and a stuffed animal named Knuffle Bunny about the perils of what should have been a routine trip to the Laundromat. Bad, bad day.

Somehow, Trixie's best friend and constant companion, Knuffle (Dutch for "snuggle") Bunny, got swept up with the dirty clothes and left behind when Trixie and clueless Dad continued their fun walking tour of the neighborhood. When Trixie discovers that Knuffle has gone missing, a tantrum starts, Dad panics and they rush home to Mom, who suggests that they retrace their steps.

Why didn't I think of that, says Dad, a sharp guy. Well, all ends well but not before Dad is accosted by large pieces of laundry while searching for Knuffle. The rabbit is found. Life is good.

All of this is told in the opening play of the Theatre of Youth's 41st season, "Knuffle Bunny; A Cautionary Musical." It's a 50-minute song and dance version of the award-winning children's story by Mo Willems, the multitalented author and animator with "Sesame Street" credits and a string of book and television successes such as "Sheep in the City," "Pigs Make Me Sneeze," the Knuffle series, "Time to Pee!" and "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!"

"Knuffle Bunny" was a huge hit at the Kennedy Center a few years back, and it was suggested that it should be set to music.

Fellow Jim Henson alum Michael Silversher was recruited to write the music and Willems wrote the lyrics for a seven-song score that includes "Tricky with Trixie," "Walkin' Dad," the frantic "Washy Washy," the poignant "Really, Really Love You," "Don't Worry," the title tune and Trixie's gibberish lament, "Aggle, Flaggle, Klabble."

It's cute and clever work, particularly "Aggle, Flaggle, Klabble." See, Trixie can't form real words yet so "Aggle" is the best she could do to explain why she was inconsolable. I liked it. It reminded me of the halftime airs at the Super Bowl or maybe an Olympian closing ceremony. And it made about as much sense as the rhetoric at the recent political conventions. The tune could become an anthem for the entire political season.

Michael Walline creatively directs and choreographs elfin Maria Droz as Trixie - she's an adult, but is an effective 2-year old, wobbly, rubbery, cuddly - Sean Murphy, Mary Ryan, Sara Marioles, Jessica Stuber and Adam Rath. Special effects aid mightily: local landmark videos, blacklighting, sounds, colors; the TOY technical wizards shine.

So, Trixie learns to speak, Dad goes from dunce to hero and with Mom makes things right. Love and hope are present in large doses. It's silly but sweet. Nice combination.



Theater Review

"Knuffle Bunny:

A Cautionary Musical"

Three stars (Out of four)

Presented by Theatre of Youth through Oct. 7 in the Allendale Theatre, 203 Allen St. Tickets are $24-$26. Call 884-4400 or visit www.theatreofyouth.org.