‘The Land of Forgotten Toys’
2 ½ stars
Amidst a growing crop of holiday productions, Chicago is being treated to yet another new family friendly show. Chirpy, relentlessly over-exuberant and with very few moments of reflection or subtlety, this new holiday musical could really use some layers and a bit of variety. As it now plays in its world premiere, the production is a little overpowering. It’s a little like sitting in the front row of an IMAX theatre: there’s no escape.
Created by the writing team of twins Jennifer and Jaclyn Enchin, the plot of this new play is fresh and fun, although vaguely familiar. The songs are a different matter.
Dylan MarcAurele has written a score that’s bouncy, memorable and a real delight. The Enchins are also credited with contributing the lyrics, along with lyrics added by Mike Ross that are equally enjoyable.
Kevan Loney’s projections beautifully enhance Evan Frank’s practical scenic design and Christine Leinicke has created an impressive array of colorful, imaginative costumes that add magic to this production.
Dina Dicostanzo’s choreography is great. It’s spirited and playful, adding so much to this production. And Musical Director Stephen Coakley has nicely guided his cast to some excellent vocal performances, while skillfully conducting the accompaniment of his offstage band.
Perhaps it’s the direction that’s the real problem. Children don’t need to be patronized in order to be entertained. Actors should be guided to find the reality and truth in their characters rather than encouraged to simply overact. More often than not, the average theatergoer will feel like he’s being hit over the head with this production.
Nicholas Reinhart has directed his cast to be loud, excessively enthusiastic and in the theatergoer’s face. Most audiences may wish they had a device with which to dial down the buoyancy and over-the-top cheerfulness.
Presented in the Greenhouse Theater’s wide, angular, intimate Mainstage venue, the action is practically in the audience’s lap, no more than a few feet from any anyone.
The cast is very good, with talented Columbia College senior, Bre Jacobs, and excellent seasoned actress, Mary-Margaret Roberts so wonderful as Grace and Nikki, the two young ladies who lead this production.
Roberts is sweet and full of life but particularly when she’s paired with the talented Quinn Kelch, as goofy Schmedrick the Elf, the character who enjoys repairing things.
Kate Reid is full of benevolence and grace as the Queen of the Northern Sky. Liz Norton is powerful and provocative as Charlotta. The true villain of the story, Norton relishes every depraved moment as a jealous, evil, Cruella deVil-like sister of Santa Claus (played with gentle authority by Randolph Johnson).
Charlotta’s two nasty henchmen elves are magnificent. They’re played by a pair of gifted child actors, Joe Scott and Maya Keane. And the “Forgotten Toys” are terrifically portrayed by Evelyn Crane, Brittney Brown, Cathy Reyes McNamara, Joshua Bishop, Lucas Crossman and Jabari Thurman.
There’s much to recommend in this show. The score is infectious, the characters are fun and engaging and the story is inventive. All the actors in this production are strong, even though Nicholas Reinhart’s direction seems to have encouraged many unrestrained performances.
The script needs more variety. As it now plays, the musical itself is simply black and white with no shades of gray. The Enchins may also want to rethink their musical, rewriting it to add some interesting layers to their characters and the plot. It would give the director and his cast more with which to work.
DETAILS: “The Land of Forgotten Toys” is presented by CPA Theatricals and LCG Entertainment at the Greenhouse Theater Center in the Upstairs Mainstage theatre, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, through Dec. 29, 2019. Running time: about 90 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and other information call (call) 773-404-7336 or visit GreenhouseTheater.
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