The Velveteen Rabbit, a 1922 children's book by Margery Williams, has been a perennial bedtime favorite for almost a century. Loved by kids and adults alike, the tale chronicles a stuffed rabbit's relationship with its young owner, as well as its longing to "become real" — something that can only happen when a toy is "truly loved." The book's charm lies primarily in its simplicity and in its understanding of a child's devotion to his or her favorite possessions, no matter how threadbare or worn.
Patrick Flick, the accomplished director of new play development at Orlando Shakespeare Theater, has adapted the tale for a children's theater production, adding a few desultory songs but mostly sticking to Williams' text. The result, directed by Brandon Roberts, is a 45-minute show that, unfortunately, adds precious little appeal or enchantment to the original.
To begin with, Flick has very few dramatic ingredients with which to work. The brevity of the story and its lack of any real conflict make it a difficult subject to stage; in the book, very little actually happens. The boy plays with the rabbit and then becomes ill, which results in the rabbit being discarded by a doctor who fears it is infectious. In its sad exile, a fairy transforms the toy into a live creature. And while Flick does stay true to the simple plot, he never quite gets a handle on conveying the depth of emotion between boy and rabbit, which should be the real focus of the piece.
Flick's songwriting also suffers from overly simplistic and unclever lyrics wedded to a rather banal score. Moreover, his choice of where to place songs and who gets to sing them is absolutely baffling. Not one tune is given to the boy or the rabbit, while three are sung (generally off-key) by the minor character of the nanny. Songs are the easiest way in which to convey feeling, yet Flick takes no advantage of the opportunity to allow the two main characters to croon their way into our hearts.
Director Roberts, an accomplished actor and comedian himself, has not helped the cause either. Surprisingly, he has not staged the production with any real whimsy, nor given it a comic, kinetic thrust that might have taken advantage of the characters' physicality — other than a short dance by the two "real" rabbits that appear in the woods. In fact, the only outstanding feature of the production is Denise Warner's lovely costume design.
While the youngsters in the audience may be easily entertained merely by seeing their favorite storybook characters come to life in front of them, they deserve more from a professional company with the talent and resources of the Orlando Shakespeare Theater. So do their parents, who make up half the crowd but pay for all the firstname.lastname@example.org
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