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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Classic 'Rabbit' is magical on stage

Special to The Advertiser

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

From left, Karen Bauder plays Nana, Seth Franke stars as the Boy and Mia Harr is The Rabbit in "The Velveteen Rabbit."

Photo courtesy Tom Holowach

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Anyone who's had to give up a favorite stuffed toy will identify with "The Velveteen Rabbit," now at Palikū Theatre.

The 1922 children's story, written by Margery Williams and illustrated by William Nicholson, has been a favorite ever since, but its message is in the subtitle: "How Toys Become Real."

Directed by Ron Bright, the intimate story of a boy and his toy rabbit holds up on the large stage due to a huge rotating bed designed by Lloyd S. Riford III, body microphones, and a primarily college cast that manages to "play it large" while keeping it personal.

Sure, there's an awkward moment when Seth Frank as the Boy begins to snuggle rather affectionately with his new most favorite toy, but Maria Harr as the Velveteen Rabbit remains chastely wrapped up in a bunny suit comprised of yards and yards of velour fabric. She also turns it comic by quipping that the fate of favorite toys is to get smashed by a sleeping child.

Bright's direction keeps everything crisp and clear so that the children in the audience can easily follow along as the stuffed toy becomes threadbare and eventually must be destroyed after the Boy's bout with scarlet fever.

The sadly sweet turn comes when a character called Nursery Magic rewards the Velveteen Rabbit by turning it into a real hare.

Although stuffed with sawdust, the Rabbit is lonely enough to shed a real tear, demonstrating that becoming real is at the price of suffering some hurt.

But it's also fun for adults to watch the college actors pump some character into the other toys that fill the nursery.

Jonathan Cannell as the Train takes a crotchety, W.C. Fields turn with his obvious disdain for all toys not mechanical. Zack Gravitt is appropriately overwound as the skittish Mouse, and Isaac Ligsay as the Skin Horse is a wise soul with a mucous snort.

It's a short performance that runs only 45 minutes, so the young ones can absorb it without becoming restive, and the cast and crew take pains to make it quality time.