There are few things I enjoy more than seeing a look of wonder and delight on my nephew's face. And I must say that when we were watching Emerald City Theatre's premiere production of Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical, I had a hard time choosing between watching that expression and the utterly charming production playing out on the stage.
Knuffle Bunny comes from the children's book by the same name: the story of toddler Trixie, who accidentally leaves behind her beloved stuffed animal when she goes to the Laundromat with her dad. Any parent whose child has ever lost a lovie can sympathize, as can any kid who has ever misplaced a deeply loved toy.
But the great thing about this performance is that it takes a universal premise and turns it into a five-person show that stages lively and colorful musical numbers and mixes in a bit of audience interaction to keep kids engaged. And just as the book slips in some clever asides that appeal to adults, there were a few knowing chuckles as parents caught references their kids might not.
I particularly enjoyed one song where Trixie sings an operatic ode to her lost rabbit - completely in unintelligible toddler speak. I promise that you've never heard musical theater like this before!
Although my nephew is on the low end of the recommended age range (3-6), he stayed transfixed throughout the show. At 45 minutes, the plot moves along at a brisk pace and the musical numbers keep the story from stalling at any point. Kids get their own mini playbill complete with a page for autographs, and Aidan was awestruck at getting Trixie herself to sign it after the show.
The other fun surprise was the opportunity for kids to make and color their own Knuffle Bunny in the lobby before the show - which came into play at least once during the actual performance.
Whether you're fans of Mo Willems's adorable book or just looking for a kid-friendly introduction to live theater, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical should fit the bill. The show has a sweet and fun message for adults and kids alike.
And I think at some point between Knuffle Bunny's loss and - spoiler alert! - eventual rediscovery, you'll see at least one priceless expression pass over your child's face.
Elizabeth Diffin is the associate editor at Chicago Parent. She lives in Wheaton.
See more of Elizabeth's stories here.