Constellation: Ambitious bird has lesson for young audiences

By Wendy Carson 

Constellation Stage and Screen in Bloomington brings to life one of Mo Willems popular children’s books in a delightful show for old and young alike, “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! The Musical!”

Pigeon (Yul Carrion) is frustrated because he never gets to do what he wants to do. Everywhere he goes, he is met with the same refrain: “Fly off, bird!” As he sulks in the park, a new sign is suddenly placed beside him announcing that this will be a new Bus Stop. When the bus pulls up and he meets the Bus Driver (Sarah Cassidy), complete with her Official Bus Driver’s Hat, he realizes that he wants to drive the bus, too. However, nobody takes him seriously and he goes away dejected.

Suddenly, there is panic as the bus breaks down, potentially making all passengers late to their destinations. In the disarray, Pigeon grabs the Official Bus Driver’s Hat, but realizes his feet are too short to reach the pedals. He feels broken due to this, as well as the fact that he never learned to fly. With encouragement from his new human friends, and a lesson from the Driver, he flaps off throughout the audience, saving the day by “doing his thing.” All turns out well and Pigeon is satisfied – until a new sign for an Airport appears, and he has a new quest.

While the show is targeted primarily to the 8 and under demographic, there is plenty here for the adults who accompany them to enjoy. Hand-puppetry includes some traditional style (no actor visible), while most of it is the more modern style of a visible puppeteer (like “Lion King” or that “Q” show for grownups).

Carrion brings all of the energy and emotion you could desire to his turn as Pigeon and his puppetry skills are on point. However, the two standouts of the cast are the younger performers involved. Sophia Linville is superb in her numerous roles including the Bus Engine and the rogue Puppy. Still, it is Miriam Spillman’s Little Old Lady character that steals the show. Both of these ladies are bound to be standouts in future acting endeavors should they choose to pursue them.

The cast includes Tucker Ransom as the Hot Dog Vendor and Busy Business Man, and Nikki Stawski as a City Worker and cool Teenager. They and Spillman also appear as Ducks.

One note, there was a promotion beforehand to purchase a Pigeon stuffie along with your tickets, but demand was higher than expected and they are all sold out. However, I have been advised that a similar deal may be offered during their Fall production of “Curious George” and they expect to have enough supplies to meet the demand.

Another note to parents: There is an ice-cream coupon for The Chocolate Moose with the program. (Just a thought.)

Performances run through May 14 at the Waldron Arts Center, 122 S. Walnut St., Bloomington. Get info and tickets at

Civic’s ‘Matilda’ a fun and inspiring adventure

By John Lyle Belden

“Roald Dahl’s Matilda, The Musical” not only features Dahl’s brilliant dark satire but also the sharp wit of songs by Tim Minchin, with book by Dennis Kelly. Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre presents this “miracle” on its stage at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through May 14, directed by Suzanne Fleenor.

In a generation of British children convinced they are wonderful and special, there is Matilda Wormwood (Alexis Vahrenkamp), whose parents take a different approach.  Her mother (Mikayla Koharchik) resents that the birth kept her from a ballroom & salsa dance contest; her father (John Walls) can’t get over the fact that she is not a boy, like her dull-witted brother, Michael (Matthew Wessler); and they both can’t stand she insists on always reading books full of stories. Why can’t she just watch telly like a normal kid? 

Mr. Wormwood is working on the deal of a lifetime, not letting pesky stuff like ethics get in the way. Meanwhile, Mrs. Wormwood works on her dance steps with slinky partner Rudolpho (Michael Humphrey). To their delight, Matilda, who has been “a little bit naughty,” will go away to school, where she’ll be sorted out by sadistically cruel Headmistress Miss Trunchbull (Evan Wallace).

Fortunately, our heroine has some allies. She befriends local librarian Mrs. Phelps (Kendra Randle) and thrills her with stories she spins about an Escapologist (Matthew Sumpter) and an Acrobat (Isa Armstrong). Her sweet but mousey teacher Miss Honey (Julia Bonnett) sees the girl as gifted and pledges to help her reach her potential. On the schoolyard, precocious Lavender (Nye Beck) declares that she and Matilda are Best Friends.

While the title character is the show’s focus, its events also involve her classmates. The plight of brave Bruce (Cole Weesner), betrayed by his sweet tooth, helps bring the children to the realization that “the Trunchbull” must be defeated. But it’s Matilda’s most special “gifts” that will turn the tide.

This fun musical is a great showcase of young talent, and an entertaining inspiration for the kids of all ages watching. The adults aren’t bad either – actually the ones who act badly, Koharchik, Walls, and especially Wallace, are the best.

So, put aside the Telly and enjoy the antics of some truly “revolting” children. For information and tickets see or