Highly Recommended ***** When it comes to theater for children, Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, with its sterling Theatre for Young Audiences , offers amazing musicals. I feel that because of the production values they generate, these youngsters will grow up with a love of theater. I see it in my own grandchildren who have been attending since they were three ( the age that I suggest is perfect for almost every show they have done). As it turned out, today was not a grandkids day as Sarah and Rebecca are in Wisconsin (with mom and dad, of course) picking up their brother Adam. So, this being the case, and knowing that my readers expect a “kids eye view” in my review, I asked a young lady sitting near me to assist me. Cora is from Houston ,Texas, visiting her local family. She is 8 years old, so one could say, she is filling in perfectly for Sarah. Before I get to her reaction, let me tell you about the production.
The play is called “The Velveteen Rabbit” ( a musical adaptation of the classic Margery Williams tale) with music by composer Jimmy Roberts (“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”) and the book and lyrics by James Still. The play is directed and choreographed by Amanda Tanguay, who recently did a smashing production of “Pinocchio” on the same stage. “The Velveteen Rabbit” brings together the power of children’s games and toys with the need to give and receive “unconditional love”.
The story begins with Steve (Devin DeSantis does a sparkling job of playing this man/child) coming back to clean up some of the old toys that have been gathering dust in the family garage. He begins to go through his scrapbook to times in his past and finds himself stopping at age 6, and then the action begins. All of a sudden DeSantis is that little boy Stevie with an older brother Ben (Jonathan Butler-Duplessis) who is 12 and much wiser than the little twerp of a brother that he has to watch over. In the playroom we meet his toys of the past and the brand new Boat ( a dynamic performance by Sharriese Hamilton) that he just got for his birthday. The Boat is battery operated and there is an adorable little song about batteries not included, causing the wise old Rocking Horse (played to perfection my Mark David Kaplan) who takes on the responsibility of teaching the other toys the rules of the playroom, and “Toy Magic”.
The Velveteen Rabbit ( the lovely Dara Cameron, who just keeps showing us her terrific range in voice and roles ) is the center of attention as it seems that Stevie has never played with her. In fact, he has not even hugged her. Rocking Horse explains to her that she can only become real if Stevie loves her and she must love him in return. As we watch Stevie and Velveteen bond, playing kids games, we see that what the old Rocking Horse said, may in fact, be just that , fact! This is a story of love and the power of love. The other character in this play is a real rabbit (Zoe Nadal, who also plays a nurse when Stevie gets sick). The scene where Stevie gets sick is one that brings sadness to the viewer, but as it turns out, he gets well and realizes the true importance of his “Velveteen Rabbit” during this period.
This is a stunning production filled with memorable characters . The costumes by Theresa Ham are amazingly accurate, and the lighting (Nick Belley) and sound (Bob Gilmartin) and props (Greg Pinsoneault) fill out the technical parts of the show. As this production shares the stage with the main stage production of “Man Of LaMancha” there is no real set, but the smooth direction and solid cast take care of telling us the story in a way that every child (and adult) “gets it”! By the way, the three musicians under the direction of Ellen K. Morris are as magical as the script itself.
Eight year old Cora, who has her own stuffed animal , a wiener dog, understands the closeness that a child can have with that “special friend”. I think that she was drawn deeper into the story than her older and younger cousins due to this. I turned to watch her several times during this one hour magical trip down memory lane and saw a radiance in her eyes that showed me that the Marriott magic was indeed working. I also had someone else in the audience that I knew. Three year old Zoe, who had her “best friend” with her, as well as her mother (Grandpa Alan must have been on the golf course- too bad, he missed sharing a wonderful experience with his little princess). Zoe loved the show just as Cora did. I must confess, not knowing any of the original book ( I missed the recent rendition done at LifeLine in Rogers Park), I fell in love with the tale. Yes, it is like a “Toy Story” or a “Nutcracker” in that the toys take on a life of their own, but it is sweet and sparkles with a message that is wonderful. Parents and grandparents! Share this amazing experience with the kids you love!
“The Velveteen Rabbit” will continue at Marriott Theatre for Young Audiences, located at 10 Marriott Drive in Lincolnshire thru August 14th with performances as follows:
Thursdays 10 a.m.
Fridays 10 a.m.
Saturdays 10 a.m.
Sundays 10 a.m.
Thursday, July 28th will be a special performance for hearing impaired viewers.
Tickets are $17.23 including tax and fees and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 847-634-0200 or online at www.MarriottTheatre.com
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “The Velveteen Rabbit”