The folks at Oro Valley’s friendliest, funniest, most whimsical theater are at it again with their own take on the Disney and Pixar classic, “Toy Story”. The Great American Playhouse has fit the pieces of the casting puzzle together beautifully to create “Toy Tales”, a story about a group of toys who prove that they are more than tiny plastic figurines, but are instead complex, with big hearts and full-size battles of their own.
When evil and aromatically offensive prospector Stinky Pete and his potato head goon One-Eyed Bart conjure an evil plot to blow up a local mine and steal the riches of Javelina Springs (which is in reality just a small boy’s bedroom), it is up to Rusty the wooden cowboy to save the day. But Rusty has problems of his own when his owner is given a new toy, Buck Universe, whose gadgets and gizmos make him a prime candidate to replace Buster as the most popular toy in the room. Can Rusty and Buck Universe make amends and join forces with the other toys of Javelina Springs to save the day?
Great American Playhouse productions are always rich in genius writing and perfect execution, but what continues to amaze me is the near flawless casting choices. Stealing the show this time around was Jennifer Ackerly Lawrence, whose role as Barbie demands a blond pony tail, an enormous smile, and an overabundance of costume changes. Riding close behind Ackerly Lawrence was Amy DeHaven. DeHaven may just be the most diverse piece of the GAP puzzle, and this time around she played Bo Peep, who though sweet and good at heart, is also full of fire and spunk. In the blink of an eye DeHaven can erupt, shifting from a maternal sheep herder to a scorned woman with a shepherd’s staff as a weapon. Randy McDonald and Sean MacArthur play Rusty and Buck Universe wonderfully, but with a supporting cast that includes Michael Claridge, Daniel Lopez, Brian Paradis, Nick Seivert, and Jacqueline Williams, there is simply no weak link on the Great American Playhouse team.
In a long history of fantastic GAP scripts that seem to just get better and better, “Toy Tales” is not necessarily the strongest. Be that as it may, what little the script does lack is more than compensated for by the improvisation talents of the cast. Never before have I seen the GAP team so on-point with their ability to think on their feet, tease the crowd, and ad lib their way out of any bombed joke or prop malfunction. What made “Toy Tales” the most fun was the breaking of the barrier between script and reality, or stage and audience. The explanation for this can only be that the often-returning cast members are continuing to evolve and become more tightly fastened as one cohesive unit that can play off of one another blunders without a hiccup.
“Toy Tales” will be showing at the Great American Playhouse through June 6, making it the perfect destination for families on summer break.