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VOL. 125 | NO. 241 | Monday, December 13, 2010

Beloved Children’s Tale Comes to Life

JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Memphis News

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Germantown Community Theatre debuts a new Christmastime musical this year featuring the story of a beloved toy and the meaning of being “real.”

The toys come alive in the Germantown Community Theatre’s production of “The Velveteen Rabbit.” (Photo: Courtesy of Germantown Community Theatre)

“The Velveteen Rabbit,” a musical adaptation of the well-known children’s book by Margery Williams with lyrics and music by Barnes Boffey, Paul Pilcher and Bob Love, runs through Dec. 19. The heartwarming story of a toy rabbit who longs to be truly loved by the boy who owns it was a nostalgic choice for director Julie Reinbold.

“It’s the first play that I ever did when I was in the third grade,” said Reinbold, now a drama teacher at Ridgeway High School. “It was at Maryville College in East Tennessee, where they would use local kids in roles.”

Reinbold has directed three other main stage productions at GCT and acted in several more. She’s also on the play-finding committee that chose “Rabbit” over its usual December show, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” at her suggestion.

“For years we’ve done (‘Best Pageant’), which had been a successful show, but we’ve done it long enough that we needed something fresher,” she said.

Like “Best Pageant,” “Rabbit” has a cast of 40, mostly children, who play the toys in the nursery of a young boy, known only as “the boy.” Adults play the roles of “the Nana” and “the skin horse,” the oldest and wisest of the toys. Like an early telling of the popular “Toy Story” movies, the toys in “The Velveteen Rabbit” sing and wonder about their individual roles in the life of the boy, who eventually falls ill and needs them more than ever.

“I’d call it touching, not sad. I don’t think of it that way,” Reinbold said. “There is a point where the boy gets scarlet fever. At the end the doctor says to burn all of the toys, including the rabbit, but he doesn’t get burned. Ultimately it’s a happy ending.”

Music director Jeff Brewer, who retired as choral director at Ridgeway, said the musical adaptation helps bring the story’s charm off the written page.

If You Go

Tickets for “The Velveteen Rabbit” are $23 for adults, $15 for seniors/students, and $10 for kids 12 and under. Show times are Thursday through Saturday at 7 p.m., with matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.

“The kids learn faster than adults,” he said. “Getting them to learn the music is the easiest piece of the puzzle. The songs are sing-able, very tuneful, nothing that you immediately recognize because this show isn’t done very often, but the music fits the story and the characters quite well.”

Brewer said audiences can expect to hear individual character pieces as well as chorus-style songs in which toys like a spinning top and lettered blocks sing and dance in a parade reminiscent of the furniture in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.” Many of the children’s roles are double cast, including Lindsay Ferreira and Owen Hergenrader as the Velveteen Rabbit. Also cast are Mary Margaret Grant as the narrator, Robert Ferguson as the boy, Montera Welch as Nana, Lee Grant as the skin horse and Anna Jones as the Good Fairy.

Most of the children, like Reinbold in the third grade, are making their stage debuts in this production.

“It’s always exciting to introduce new kids to theater,” she said.

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