Taking a trip to toyland

A cast of all ages will bring a classic Christmas fairy tale to life this week at Hawkeye Community Theatre.

The theater will present a new version of “Babes in Toyland,” with local students in most of the starring roles.

“We have ages from 6 to adult. We have a lot of elementary school kids,” said Director Mary Jo Laupp. “Our two leads are high school. Our leading lady goes to Fort Dodge Senior High, and our leading man goes to St. Ed.”

The play tells a simple story, she said.

“Bo Peep and her one true love, Tom-Tom the Piper’s son, are trying to save her family home and escape the clutches of his evil uncle Barnaby. Barnaby’s trying to manipulate Bo Peep into marrying him by threatening to kick her family out of their home. Of course her mother is the old woman who lives in a shoe, so there’s a lot of children involved,” said Laupp.

They have to wander through the woods, and deal with a scary spider. They’re rescued by the moth queen, end up in Toyland, earn the money and defeat the villain, she said.

The story originally came to Broadway in 1903 shortly after the success of “The Wizard of Oz,” and has been remade into multiple movies since then.

“The problem was the original production was a little over the top. It was quite a spectacle, but the storyline was rather weak,” Laupp said.

In this particular rewrite, by Eric Stedman, “He’s kept lots of the original songs, he’s tightened up the storyline a little bit, he’s gotten rid of some of the excesses in production value. It’s a really sweet, tug-at-the-heart kind of story.”

One challenge has been working with the cast to get all the pieces of the play put together, she said. Some students are only in the chorus, and some only dance, so they don’t come to every rehearsal.

The ages of the performers can also be a challenge.

“Little ones’ attention spans are not very long,” she said. “It’s always a challenge, but this is one the few times a year some of these kids get to do a show. The high schoolers have their school shows, but younger than that they don’t get a lot of opportunities to do theater. It’s kind of big deal for them.”

Laupp has not directed at the Hawkeye before, but has done theatrical directing at Fort Dodge Senior High for four years, and has been directing since she was 17. The play has special meaning for her.

“My favorite part about this show is for me it’s coming full circle, theatrically. I was in another version in this play when I was in first grade,” she said. “I vividly remember singing the title song, ‘Toyland.'”

Another fun point has been working with the author.

“I’ve had quite a bit of contact with him, asking questions, and clarifying. He’s been great because a lot of companies that rent scripts for musicals are pretty picky about keeping things intact, and trying to do all of the songs. He’s very understanding,” Laupp said.

“I’m working with a lot of young kids, so we’ve had to tweak some things to make it work for younger voices and younger singers. He’s great about giving suggestions on how to make that work and keep the integrity of the show intact.

“It’s really nice to have the playwright’s phone number and email address to talk to. It’s not an experience you usually have as a director.”