“The Velveteen Rabbit” – Childsplay

This review aired on KBAQ December 2, 2013


Childsplay, Tempe Center for the Arts
Tempe, AZ

Childsplay has skipped its annual holiday staging of “The Velveteen Rabbit” for awhile but, because there’s a whole new generation of children who haven’t seen the fabled production, the company has re-mounted it this season at their new home at the Tempe Center for the Arts.  It’s a joy to have the spiffy original staging back and, like most Childsplay shows, it couldn’t be better as it creates a magically festive time for first time young audiences and their chaperones.

Brian Brugess Clark’s breezy script is based on the popular Margery Williams book that young children adore.  It focuses on a little boy who falls in love with a velveteen rabbit he receives one Christmas.  No more plot details.  Just go and be captivated.  But, of course, there’s a heartwarming message about any object a child loves and wishes it were alive.

The production’s charms come from several toys that come to life in director David Saar’s faithful re-creation of his original production.  Along with Saar’s superb staging, there’s Jeff Thomson’s richly lush set, Rebecca Akins’ flowingly beautiful costumes that define each character, nice special effects that entrance, and a perfect cast that brings life both to people and inanimate toys with distinctive definition.  The show clocks in at the perfect length so that young kids will never be bored.  A child next to me kept her eye on every production detail and applauded mightily as she told her father how much she enjoyed the show.

The cast includes some gender bender players like Eric Boudreau who handles with tart emphasis the knowing but strict Nana and Kaleena Newman who plays the Boy with joyful exuberance.  Jon Gentry essays the Tin Soldier with forcefulness, Kate Haas bubbles as the Nursery Fairy, Dwayne Hartford plays Skin Horse with loveable passion, and Katie McFadzen makes a charming and likeable Rabbit.  The story is narrated by Debra K. Stevens in a fascinating unseen performance that never grows bland because her storytelling skills are so dynamic.

And don’t worry if you are an adult chaperone for a small child because, while children will love what’s on stage, my bets are that adults will also be drawn into the charming tale.

It is so nice to have the “The Velveteen Rabbit” back to spread its fanciful delights through such an enchanting production.  “The Velveteen Rabbit” continues with Saturday and Sunday public performances through December 22.  Even this bah-humbugging critic was captivated.  For tickets, call the Tempe Center for the Arts box office at 480-350-2822 or order tickets online at www.childsplayaz.org.

Grade: A