Long before there was Buzz and Woody, there was the Velveteen Rabbit.
“Velveteen Rabbit is like the first ‘Toy Story’ that was around. It’s about toys coming to life and becoming alive. And it’s about how the love of a child for a toy can make it real,” said Director Dennis Brown.
“The Velveteen Rabbit” opens April 12 at Vero Voce in St. Charles and runs through April 19. Based on the classic book by Margery Williams, and adapted for the stage by Scott Davidson, the musical tells the story of a stuffed velveteen rabbit that is given to a young boy as a gift from his aunt and uncle.
“It basically traces the story of the boy’s toys in their toy closet and how they believe they are of more value than the Velveteen Rabbit, whose only redeeming quality is that he can be loved – basically hugged,” Brown said. “He does nothing. He doesn’t wind up, he doesn’t talk, he doesn’t walk. He just sits there and gets hugged. Of course, that’s what kids love to do. They’ll take their bunny to bed and sleep with the bunny and play with the bunny in the yard.”
The show, Brown said, features a lot of very emotional music and wording as the tale is told.
“It’s a roller coaster of emotions,” he said. “Happy and sad and glad and obviously always finishing on a happy note.”
The production features a cast of 19 students from throughout the area, including St. Charles, Batavia and Elgin.
“A lot of new performers that we’re very proud of,” Brown said. “We’re very happy with the cast.”
Together, they perform a total of 35 roles, which includes a number of toys, rabbits, and humans. Playing multiple roles has been a challenge they’ve embraced, Brown said, and given them a chance to consider how they develop multiple characters — many of which are not human.
“I am a fire engine, how do you play a fire engine? Next to that you’re a toy soldier, and next to that you’re a real live bunny. How do you do all that?” Brown said. “It’s great to be cast in those sort of versatile roles. We have a lot of different ways of showing what you are and how you do it.”
Helping to show the characters are the costumes, designed by Maria Fennewald, Brown said.
“Some of them are actually wooden costumes, they’re made of wood. So they’re bigger, they’re bulkier,” Brown said. “We have some real toy-type things. We’ve got a whole variety and range in the type of costumes. A jack in the box, a fire engine, a motor boat appears on the scene…”
One of the biggest challenges they cast and crew have with the production is trying to show the difference between the human world and the toy world, he said.
“It is actually quite fun the difference we’re putting together between the human world where toys are small and insignificant, to the toy world, where toys are real and human size. It’s very interesting to see that,” Brown said. “The bunny is going to bunny size in the human world, but then human size in the toy world.”
“It’s a real challenge from the artists’ point of view, the performers’ point of view,” he said. “They’ve all taken this on really well and done a great job becoming those toys, those bunnies and people.”
Along with the musical numbers, the show will incorporate video elements. Brown said he is pleased with the way the show is coming together to tell a story of the true love of a kid for his bunny.
“It will pull on the heart-strings of those who are more adult amongst us and make the joy of the kids shine through,” Brown said. “They’ll be loving the bunny coming to life, so this has something for everyone.”