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A CurtainUp Review

By Summer Banks

Oh the thinks you can think, when you think about Seuss.— the refrain describing the show,s central conceit

Karen Weinberg as Gertrude McFuzz and Shorey Walker is the Cat in the Hat in TheatreworksUSA,s'Seussical (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Trimmed down, and hyped up on caffeine, the bright colors and fanciful flights of Seuss have returned to New York. Almost seven years since its disappointing Broadway debut, Seussical a musical adaptation of the works of Dr. Seuss by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, the team behind Ragtime and Once on this Island, is now in a TheaterworksUSA production aimed at children in grades K-4. A far less expensive production than the original, this Seussical the remix, relies on the candy-bright energy of its performers and the audience's imagination to create the wonderful world of its titular inspiration.

A "young" (mid-twenties?) boy with a marker opens the show by drawing the Cat in the Hat into existence, who then shuttles him off into the world of Seuss. The plot weaves Horton Hears a Who and Horton Hatches an Egg together with a couple of other Seuss-into-song compositions. While this makes the stories a little convoluted they,re still told with clever exposition, and it,s far less drawn out than the original. It,s Seuss back where he belongs, with children and their imaginations. The design scheme consists of the tools all children could find in their homes— bath poofs, tennis rackets and oven mitts—albeit in surrealistic quantities. Costumes could be taken at random out of any girl,s dress-up closet, although the comically resized leather jackets of the Wickersham Brothers stand out for their bizarre proportions. This recreates the experience of playing Seuss at home with a Truffula tree out of a mop, star-bellied Sneetches out of cactus or whatever. This works fine, except that you eventually realize that it's adults playing with these things on stage. The children in the audience could be home doing this themselves. So it,s the opposite of the traditional "Don,t try this at home." In fact, it,s, "Do this at home, when you think about Seuss"

While this message, like most morals in children,s stories, is a little heavy-handed, it's nice to see something working to get children to use their imaginations, rather than to just sit passively in front of the television. But it,s telling that the children were most engaged when the dream-world-within-a-dream-world of Solla Sollew is created on stage with gigantic props and costumes that actually look like drawings. The budding critic seated behind me had been crying "I don,t like it. . .that,s not an egg, it,s a ball. I want to go back outside" was suddenly quiet. Even I, who replaced Seuss with Harry Potter years ago, was suddenly riveted to the stage when a huge two-person creature wandered on stage 80 minutes into the 90-minute show.

The abbreviated running time may still be a bit too long for the ADD-generation,s attention span, but the non-stop barrage of songs and dance numbers does its best to keep everyone engaged. Each member of the cast makes the material upbeat and catchy, forcibly if necessary.

As the ridiculously lithe and lean Cat in the Hat, Shorey Walker performs with a feline,s sense of comic timing (I,m not exactly sure what that is either, but when you see it you,ll understand). Michael Wartella plays JoJo in precise children,s theater quasi Broadway style and looks, quite fittingly, as if he could have stepped out of Pokemon. Performing exactly as any Broadway starlet should, Kelly Felthous,s Mayzie La Bird is surprisingly talented and likable. Ebony Marshall-Oliver has the production's best moment when her Sour Kangaroo plugs the ears of the stuffed Young Kangaroo in her pouch.

The enthusiasm of the performers is the major reason for this production's success. Their constant willingness to hit a message home and then dance on to the next keeps the still confusing story from getting bogged down, and their tolerance of the homespun-set keeps the children in the realm of the imagination. There,s no irony within blocks of the theater. That's refreshing in itself. In an era of self-aware meta-musicals that spend too much time trying to laugh at themselves it's nice change to listen to a cast just singing, dancing and telling a storyt. And with only one, thankfully short, meta-moment, that,s what this Seussical does. It,s a crazy ride, but well worth the journey for those willing to leaving their New Yorker,s cynicism on the street, where it belongs.

For a review of the Broadway Seussical go here.

Book by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty
Co-conceived by Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty and Eric Idle
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Based on the works of Dr. Seuss
Directed and Choreographed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge

Cast: Kelly Felthous (Mayzie La Bird), Brian Michael Hoffman (Horton the Elephant), Nikka Graff Lanzarone (Bird Girl), Willie Lee-Williams (Wickersham Brother), Amelia Morgan-Rothschild (Bird Girl/Mrs. Mayor), Ben Tostado (Wickersham Brother), Josh Walden (Mayor of Who/Wickersham Brother), Shorey Walker (The Cat In The Hat), Michael Wartella (JoJo), Gertrude McFuzz (Karen Weinberg), Ellen Zolezzi (Bird Girl)
Scenic Design: Narelle Sissons
Costume Design: Tracy Christensen
Lighting Design: Matthew Richards
Sound Design: Eric Shim
Puppet Design: Eric Wright
Music Direction: W. Brent Sawyer
Running Time: 90 minutes no intermission
The Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St.,
From 7/16/07 to 8/17/07; opening 7/19/07
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday at 10:30 AM and 1 PM, Thursday at 1 and 6:30 PM and Sunday at 1 and 4 PM.
Tickets: Free, given away one hour before the performance
Reserve for groups of ten or more by phone: 212.627.7373
Reviewed by Summer Banks based on 7/22/07 performance

Song List:
Overture/ Schoolyard Kids
Oh, The Thinks You Can Think! /The Cat in the Hat and The Company
Horton Hears A Who / The Cat In The Hat, Boy, Bird Girls, Horton and Citizens of the Jungle of Nool
Biggest Blame Fool / Sour Kangaroo, Young Kangaroo, Horton, Boy, Wickersham Brothers, Bird Girls, Gertrude McFuzz, Mayzie LaBird, The Cat in the Hat and Ensemble
Here On Who/The Mayor of Whoville, Mrs. Mayor, JoJo, Citizens of Who and Horton How To Raise A Child /Mr. Mayor, Mrs. Mayor
It's Possible /JoJo, Cat in the Hat and Fish
Alone In The Universe /Horton the Elephant and JoJo
The One Feather of Miss Gertrude McFuzz/Amayzing Mayzie / Mayzie LaBird, Gertrude McFuzz and Bird Girls Amayzing Gertrude /Gertrude McFuzz, Cat in the Hat and Bird Girls
Monkey Around/Chasing the Whos /Horton the Elephant, Sour Kangaroo, Bird Girls, Wickersham Brothers, The Cat in the Hat, Vlad Vladikoff and Whos
Notice Me, Horton /Gertrude McFuzz and Horton the Elephant
How Lucky You Are /Mayzie LaBird, The Cat in the Hat
Mayzie,s Exit/Horton Sits on the Egg/Dilenna/Hunters / Mayzie, Gertrude, Horton the Elephant, Hunters and Bird Girls
Egg, Nest, and Tree /Sour Kangaroo, Bird Girls, Wickersham Brothers, The Cat in the Hat and Horton
Mayzie in Palm Beach /Mayzie La Bird, The Cat in the Hat
Amayzing Horton / Mayzie La Bird
Alone In The Universe (Reprise) / Horton the Elephant
Solla Sollew /Horton the Elephant, Circus Animals and Who Familly
All For You /Gertrude McFuzz, Cat In The Hat, Horton and Bird Girls
The People Versus Horton The Elephant / Horton the Elephant, Sour Kangaroo, Wickersham Brothers, Bird Girls, Gertrude McFuzz, Who Family and The Cat in the Hat
Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! / Cat in the Hat, Boy, Schoolyard Kids
Green Eggs & Ham / Full Company
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