April 16, 2021
Classic Velveteen Rabbit hops into life onstage
By John Busbee for The Culture Buzz
Just as the best in children’s literature is timeless, Kate Goldman Children’s Theatre has established itself as one of the best interpreters of children’s literature in America through its timeless mission. The Des Moines Playhouse’s John Viars Theatre was a grand showcase for this latest offering of live theatre anchored in the children’s greats. The Velveteen Rabbit not only will delight the young audiences it is targeting, but also the young-at-heart adults who accompany them for a shared theatrical experience, par excellence.
Although the pandemic situation has kept shows from gracing the familiar Kate Goldman Children’s Theatre black box theatre, the welcoming embrace of its mainstage alternative gives audiences a safer and socially-distanced place in which to savor the rich rewards of live theatre. Whatever the venue, children will delight in seeing this familiar story come to vibrant and captivating life onstage.
Director Charissa L. Hamel brings her experienced hand to The Velveteen Rabbit, supported by an exceptional production team. Led by scenic designer Jay Michael Jagim and costume & properties designer Angela Lampe, and enhanced through the lighting mastery of Virgil Kleinhesselink, this staging concept gives enough pop to place the action in a variety of scenes, while giving plenty of “theatre of the mind” leeway to allow everyone to expand the imagination process. The spare elements of the set pieces support the story, while giving focus on the costumed characters as they bring the familiar tale of a child’s favorite bunny to a pop-off-the-page wonder.
Hamel guides her talented cast through its animated, yet controlled, paces at a tempo which allows the audience’s younger members to easily follow the story, yet makes the action engaging enough for all. Anchoring the cast are Corley Blackford (as The Rabbit) and Finley Snavely (as The Child). These two separately and together radiate wonderful commitment to their characters. Blackford captures the yearning of an inanimate child’s favorite as it follows its imaginative dream towards reality. Snavely invests herself into her role, with an open sincerity that is refreshing to experience. Caroline Johnson adds a formal stuffiness, complete with a fine brogue, to her Nana. As a flexible ensemble providing contextual foundation to the story, from stuffed animals to woodland rabbits to singing busts, Ella Frost, Ava Gifford, Michael Howland, and Oliver Thrun truly elevate The Velveteen Rabbit to exceptional storytelling heights. A special performance tip of the hat goes to Howland and Thrun, whose musical delivery of the two busts in the library were highlights.
If you have shared this magical book with a child or grandchild, this is a perfect opportunity to expand their horizons by introducing this story to them in its live performance form. This will allow you and that child (or, children) the chance to reconnect, pique their curiosity about such a production, while providing the adult a wonderful opportunity to bond even better with that child. All triggered by the Des Moines Playhouse and their excellent production of The Velveteen Rabbit.
The Culture Buzz theatre reviews are written by professional writers to inform and enlighten. To receive weekly newsletters, email TheCultureBuzz@gmail.com or visit www.TheCultureBuzz.com. The Culture Buzz is a weekly broadcast/streaming arts & entertainment collection of conversations, airing Wednesdays 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM Central Time on KFMG 98.9 FM and streaming at www.kfmg.org.