Burgess Clark remembers it well: the first opening night of “The Velveteen Rabbit.”

That is, the first time his adaptation of the timeless Christmas-time picture book ran for theater audiences.

“The children were walking in with the book under their arms,” the executive artistic director of Boston Children’s Theatre laughs. “It was really daunting — you realize you have to meet and then exceed an audience’s expectations when you do anything like this.”

Exceed he did. The show ran for 18 years in Phoenix and now opens its second season at Boston Children’s Theatre.

How did Clark successfully transform Margery Williams’ beloved book about a toy rabbit who wants to be real — illustrations and all — to the stage?

“I thought the best way to capture that feeling of magic was to have all the toy characters played by [puppets], and the people roles by actors,” he says. He also set the play in the 1920s, when the story was originally published, and stuck with most of the nursery book’s lyrics.

The play is recommended for children as young as 4 years old — not that the creators or performers do anything to dumb down the show for a younger audience.

“I think the children instinctively pick up on all of the signals the adults pick up on,” says Clark. “In some cases, they pick up on them even more.”

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