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

Arts & Culture » Theater Review

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.

by

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

comment

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

Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Give $35/month →  
  Give $10/month →  
  Give  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  → 

Add a comment