Theater Review: AMERICA’S BEST OUTCAST TOY (Pride Films & Plays)

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by Lawrence Bommer on December 4, 2019

in Theater-Chicago


It pays homage to the goofy compassion exhibited by claymation holiday specials, especially the iconic classic where the inhabitants of the Island of Misfit Toys are rescued by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Now a world premiere musical by Pride Films and Plays staged by director/choreographer Donterrio Johnson, America’s Best Outcast Toy — An Oddball Holiday Reality Musical is a parody of what is already self-caricature, reality-TV talent contests.

This one, created by composer Cindy O’Connor and bookwriter/lyricist Larry Todd Cousineau (creators of All That He Was and Flies! The Musical) gives a lavender twist to the tawdry genre, complete with the audience picking the winner by acclamation.

In 90 minutes the supposed broadcast assembles the toys that Rudolph saved (“Where Are They Now”), newly branded celebrities hoping to win the $1 million grand prize and some tacky perks. Judged by three very disparate experts (Riley Smith, Jasmine Lacy Young, and Tyler DeLoatch) and hosted by a smarmy toy-making host and frustrated dentist named Schmermie (Patrick Regner), the eight contenders must pass the usual competitive tests: singing, dancing, baking cakes (but not with a “soggy bottom”); modeling (“The Holidays Are A Drag”); and managing to, as another typically peppy song puts it, “outwit, outplay and outlast” the others. Their anthem “Tonight’s the Night” predictably conveys their mounting expectations.

Eager to please and subject to instant elimination, the lovable losers are Spotty (Danny Ackman), an affable doofus who is covered with polka dots; self-effacing Squeak (Anna Blanchard), literally mousy until she finally finds her lungs; Beary (DeLoatch), a teddy bear with sexual overtones; closeted cowboy Bucky (Josh Kemper), accompanied by an arm puppet ostrich named Matilda, who attracts the ladies but can’t commit; feminist firebrand Jackie (Haylie Kinsler), a maverick who wants to burn down this fake show; rag doll Ashley (Julia Rowley), suffering low self-esteem; and mutant hybrid Fishbird (Smith), a confident Olympic swimmer/diver.

In this very recognizable fare each gets an occasional confessional to confirm their outsider chic. By spectacle’s end, the surviving Outcast Toys refuse to be divided and conquered. (“All or none!,” declare these proud survivors.)

Evan Frank’s slick studio set and Amanda Barth’s colorful and ingenious props provide the right two-dimensional touch for this silly stuff. Johnson’s bubbly staging never drops the energy even as it takes us to a cramped green room and other locales.

Your enjoyment of this warm-hearted and well-intentioned trifle will hinge on how much novelty you can find in a concept that practically writes itself. The creators’ sympathies for life’s underdogs is never in doubt, just the sharpness of their focus on the familiar. The most original elements — the dozen musical numbers, coached by Cody Michael Bradley — shake and bake the seemingly unavoidable clichés, and the performances sell these songs.

photos by Jenni Carroll Photography

America’s Best Outcast Toy — An Oddball Holiday Reality Musical
Pride Films and Plays
Pride Arts Center, The Broadway, 4139 N. Broadway in Chicago
Thurs-Sat at 7:30; Sun at 5
ends on January 12, 2020
for tickets, call 773-857-0222 or 866-811-4111 or visit Pride Films

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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