Anyone who has read or seen any of the numerous versions of “The Velveteen Rabbit,” based on Margery Williams’ 1922 classic children’s book, can tell you what the story is about. The toy rabbit wants to become real. But what the story is really about is acceptance and love, and the desperate hope of finding either.
Roanoke Children’s Theatre’s production of “The Velveteen Rabbit,” which has a rabbit-fast run at Jefferson Center’s Shaftman Performance Hall that goes through Sunday, updates the familiar bunny tale with a few modern updates in this adaptation by playwright James Still (not to be confused with the notable Appalachian author and poet of the same name), with musical arrangements by Jimmy Roberts. Children play not only with the familiar stuffed animals and rocking horse, but also with skateboards, and a troll doll, toy soldier, remote-controlled boat, a Jessie-like cowgirl, Lego, Elmo and Bob the Builder, all of which come to life when the humans are away. For a generation of fans raised on “Toy Story” movies, talking toys are real things.
And, as with “Toy Story,” there are rivalries and drama in the playroom, as the Velveteen Rabbit (Taylor Lyn Dawson) and toy boat (Olivia Goodman) vie for the affections of 6-year-old Steve (David Ratliff, who does a fine job playing the wide-eyed child, despite being a bona fide grown-up), a boy who has a big imagination and would rather make up his own fun than play video games with his older brother Ben (Brandon Alexander Shawl). When the switch breaks on the remote control for the boat, the rabbit starts to look better as a playmate.
The sizable cast is full of good singers and soloists, especially Dawson, who spends most of the hour-long production in the bunny suit, and Goodman, as the obnoxious, super-cool new toy. Jamie Cloutier, as the wise rocking horse, tries to explain the ways of the world to the rabbit, stressing patience. In this case, the patient hare eventually wins the race.
The Jimmy Ray Ward-designed set that depicts a child’s room is large and suitably simple, and includes a small area in front of the main stage, where Steve and the Velveteen Rabbit frolic. Special kudos go out to lighting designer Barry Gawinski and programmer Kaleb Lindevaldsen for creating an outer space scene among other nice effects. Kathy Jordan’s costumes, especially the toys, are fun and will remind grown-ups of their own toys.