Cisiany Oliver is out and about town with Knuffle Bunny. First Stages Theater is putting the children’s book classic on stage starting this week.

Patrick McArdle

There isn’t much that’s more thrilling than live theater. Unless it’s watching a child see a favorite story come alive on stage.

First Stages Theater for Young Audiences, the family arm of Arizona Onstage Productions, gets that. Last year its inaugural production was the wildly popular “Pinkalicious,” based on the children’s book series.

This weekend, First Stages opens “Knuffle Bunny, A Cautionary Musical,” based on Mo Willems’ award-winning book.

“Kids love this book, and the playwright has expanded the story so that the characters become three-dimensional,” says Kevin Johnson, the company’s founder.

Here are five good reasons to put the kids in the car and drive to the Temple of Music and Art to check out “Knuffle Bunny.”

1. The story

The book won a Caldecott Medal (given for “most distinguished American picture book for children”), spawned a short cartoon, and this musical — that’s how popular the story is. “Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical” follows Trixie and her father to the laundromat to wash the clothes. On the way home, Trixie discovers her stuffed bunny has been left behind. The panic becomes more intense because her father doesn’t know what she’s upset about — Trixie is too young to speak. Willems wrote the script for the musical, so you know it’s true to the story and characters.

2. Before the play

Johnson, a theater teacher at Basis Tucson, sits the children down in front of the stage before each performance and explains what they are about to see. “We talk about the lights, and the fog machine, and they handle props,” he explains. It’s a great first step to getting children to know and love theater.

3. Music

Willems wrote the lyrics, and Grammy winner Michael Silversher wrote the music. It’s upbeat and fun, and the adult cast is loaded with talent, so you know the songs will be delivered the way they should be.

4. After the play

The cast comes out and mingles with the audience. “There will be a disco bubble dance, and they can dance with the cast,” Johnson says.

5. A child’s joy

Watching the audience at last year’s “Pinkalicious” was a revelation — the children were completely enthralled, and afterward wild with curiosity and happiness. Come on, how can you deny your children an experience like that?

Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at or 573-4128.