By Eric Karas
New for this holiday season, Pride Films and Plays presents the original musical, America’s Best Outcast Toy. Its focus is about favorite outcast toys from the children’s favorite, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, competing in a reality show for various prizes like things from Walgreens. They go through several rounds, parodying several well-known reality competition shows from Dancing with the Stars to RuPaul’s Drag Race to Survivor and more.
The host of the show is Shermermie (Patrick Regner) an Elf who really should be a Dentist. He introduces the audience to the competitors, a spotted elephant (Danny Ackman), a squeaky mouse (Anna Blanchard), a winged Bear (Tyler DeLoatch), a Jackie out of a box (Haylie Kinsler), a rag doll (Julie Rowley), a fish/bird combo (Riley Smith), a cowboy riding an ostrich (Josh Kemper) and a Kitty (Jasmine Lacy Young).
The cast is really terrific and committed in their roles. A true standout is Smith, who seamlessly goes from his trendy fish/bird to an obnoxious British judge (Why ARE they always British?) to a take on a favorite Drag Queen judge. He is hilarious as each one and has several quick changes to get into his different characters. Ackman’s Spotty the Elephant steals his moments and steps right out of a children’s show. Blanchard’s mousy delivery makes her really seem to be a toy and boy can she sing when it’s time for it. Rowley’s rag doll Ashley gets lots of laughs and can even be taken a step further into camp. Everyone in the cast is really on point.
Donterrio Johnson is the director/choreographer, and his group dance numbers are great. The entire cast is really flawless in harmonious hilarious movements together. The dance show segment is one of the best and has audiences rolling with laughter.
Parody is usually best when the person writing it loves the genre. Obviously, Larry Todd Cousineau, who wrote the book and lyrics, loves reality competition shows. The detail and tone of the shows are obvious to anyone who has even watched them once. It’s impressive that he and composer Cindy O’Connor can parody the “belting singing show” phenomenon while still having it be entertaining like it is on the shows. Rowley, Blanchard, Kinsler and Kemper really shine in that part.
Cousineau also skewers the rampant sexism, gender roles and conformity of these shows. This is done mostly through the character of Jackie, a feminist who definitely doesn’t want to be put in a box.Toward the end, he points out that we are all misfit toys, though and this show would benefit from more of that emotion. The only part that doesn’t quite work is the host being unpleasant. Regner does a fine job, but this character is neither villainous nor redemptive enough.
Overall, America’s Best Outcast Toy is a holiday treat for anyone who loves reality television shows, knows the misfit toys and is willing to celebrate the misfit toy in each of us.
Pride Films and Plays presents “America’s Best Outcast Toy” through January 12 at The Broadway, Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here. more details here.