On Christmas morning, a young boy receives, among many gifts, a stuffed velveteen rabbit. He likes the toy, but it is often overshadowed by other toys he likes better.
It is the classic story about love and acceptance, intertwined with a touch of sadness.
Margery Williams' classic story will come alive this weekend with a children's theater presentation at Stage West Community Playhouse, featuring a cast of 21 children between 6 and 12 years old.
"It is a cut-down version of the book," said Leanne Germann, the show's director and musical director. "Through the story, the boy comes to love the rabbit."
The main characters include Rabbit, played by 10-year-old Rylie Nelson; Boy, played by McKinnley Nelson (and Rylie's twin brother); and Skin Horse, played by Reed Washington. Skin Horse gets his name from his longevity — he belonged to Boy's father, who passed it on to his son (and lost his fur from years of wear and tear).
The three lead actors are not new to Stage West. Each had roles in last year's production of The Music Man. Also, the Nelsons performed earlier this year in Gypsy (Rylie played Baby June and McKinnley a newsboy); the Tampa Bay Times' review of that show described Rylie as "spunky" and McKinnley as "cute-as-a-button."
The set includes Boy's bedroom, and a toy box that sits at the end of his bed. Germann said there is also a giant toy box, which replicates the set piece.
"It is really interesting," Germann said. "When the giant toy box opens, all the toys (children) tumble out. . . . It's different than anything I've ever done before."
The show's choreographer is Terri Marwood. "We work really well together," Germann said. "I'm grateful she's here."
Some of the toys come from the classic story, such as the marching bear and the toy soldier. But there are also more modern toys, like Buzz Lightyear, Slinkys, and Bert and Ernie.
"We wanted toys children in the audience can relate to," Germann said.
Germann admits there are some sad parts to the story, such as when Boy falls ill and keeps Rabbit with him, then is forced to throw away his beloved stuffed bunny because of the germs.
But not to fear — there is a happy ending!
This is a one-act show, broken into about eight scenes. There are six songs, including three group songs, two duets and one solo. They aren't familiar, but audiences will enjoy them.
"I like working with the kids a lot," Germann said. "I've been in the business for 40-plus years. . . . Mostly, I've always wanted to teach. And this is my way to teach them something I love."
Germann is proud of how the rehearsals are coming along, and the young actors are eager to perform.
She's confident that the cast of characters in The Velveteen Rabbit will entertain. "The audience is going to love them."