America's Best Outcast Toy is heartfelt and funny | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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America's Best Outcast Toy is heartfelt and funny

Some familiar cast-offs get a chance to show off their reality-competition chops in this new musical.


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America's Best Outcast Toy, by Larry Todd Cousineau (book and lyrics) and Cindy O'Connor (music), starts off as a send-up of various reality TV shows—America's Got Talent, Survivor, Dancing with the Stars—and ends up being about a lot more. The premise is that some citizens from the Island of Misfit Toys, made famous by a beloved television special about an ostracized reindeer—including a spotted elephant, a bird that acts like a fish, a cowboy who rides an ostrich, a basic doll with low self-esteem—are competing for the previously mentioned title. The tasks the toys must perform are familiar to anyone with even a passing familiarity with the genre—there is a dance-off, a bake-off, and a sing-off—and after each event someone is invited to leave by a snobby, sadistic, self-obsessed celebrity judge.

Cousineau's book, and the songs he penned with O'Connor, are loaded with charm and wit. And though the show is rarely fall-out-of-your-seat hilarious, it is start-to-finish funny. The show also has a lot of heart, and a message about love, friendship, and self-acceptance that could have been lifted right from the Rudolph story.

Director Donterrio Johnson's triple-threat nine-member cast do the material right. Haylie Kinsler is quite winning as a brash "Jackie" in the box, as is Danny Ackman as the hapless stuffed elephant. And Patrick Regner does plenty of comic turns as the show version of Hermie, the elf-turned-dentist, who in this version turns unctuous TV host. But the show really belongs to Riley Smith, who proves to be quite the chameleon, appearing at various times as a misfit toy, a glamour queen, and a Simon Cowell knockoff, and playing each with an intensity and believability many actors have trouble mustering for one role.  v

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