August 10, 2006


 "Seussical the Musical"

Out to Navy Pier we headed, our expectations were but few. We wondered: Will we love this show, or is it something we'll eschew?

Although tempting, this review won't continue in rhyme like "Seussical the Musical" does, both in dialogue and song. The show won't move you to tears, but it won't bore you to them either, thanks to the cast of wonderful singers and performers.

Rather than cover any one particular Seuss story, the show borrows bits from classics to create its own new story, which unfortunately isn't the easiest to follow. It melds characters and themes from a variety of books, including Horton Hears a Who, The One Feather Tail of Miss Gertrude McFuzz and Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! While I was a tad disconcerted (in which book do Horton and Gertrude fall in love?), my three 6-year-olds, who also know the books well, went with the flow.

Translating the look of Dr. Seuss from the page to the stage has stumped those from Hollywood to Broadway, but the Chicago Shakespeare Theater seems to have figured it out. Its Courtyard Theater, with seats three sides around and three stories up, affords intimate views of the set, which is decorated with giant bookshelves holding Dr. Seuss classics. Instead of relying on a big budget for effects, the show uses its imagination and belief that its audience has one, too. Costumes are minimal--each character is dressed in items you might find in your own kid's costume bin, such as a tail and striped hat for The Cat in the Hat and a hat in the shape of a trunk for Horton. Props are equally sparse, such as parachutes representing water and a clover field, and hand puppets serving as the residents of Whoville.

Since the script tries to appeal to adults and kids both, sometimes the dialogue sails too high above little heads. I snickered at the snide comments made by The Cat in the Hat narrator (played by E. Faye Butler), but could only shrug when my daughter questioned what was funny. The kid-friendly factor was sacrificed, since at times she felt left out.

The theater recommends the show "is most enjoyed by ages 4 and up," which is a nice way to say "keep the babies at home." But I guess some parents believe that "a person's a person, no matter how small," so the 3-and-under set were out in full force at the production we attended. As we exited the 75-minute, no intermission show, I counted four small persons asleep in their $18 chairs. I chalked it up to a few too many ballads on the program.

The singing is the best in town, yet no one in our family was humming any of the tunes after the show. The show is entertaining, just not very memorable. Jill S. Browning

"Seussical the Musical." Through Aug. 20. Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. Call or check Web site for showtimes. Ages 4 and up. $23, $18 ages 18 and under. 800 E. Grand Ave., Chicago. (312) 595-5600, Chicago Parent readers get half price tickets for 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday performances now through Aug. 20. To order tickets, call the box office, (312) 595-5600, or visit and use the code 4096 when ordering.



 LiftPack backpack

Every day, my 90-pound sixth grader would head out the door to walk six blocks to school while carrying on his back school books and homework weighing far more than the recommended 15 percent of his body weight. It made me cringe, thinking about the long-term damage it was doing to his growing spine. So when Innovative Product Sales & Marketing Inc. of Brewster, N.Y., offered to send us a LiftPack backpack to test, I accepted immediately. It claims to make the load feel half as heavy. According to my son, it does.

According to the firm's Web site, the backpack works because it has a patented built-in "air bladder" that allows most of the weight to rest at the base of the spine, taking pressure off the shoulders and the rest of the back. Even more important for image-conscious tweens, it looks like a regular backpack (unlike some other backpacks marketed for their back-friendly features) and it comes in middle-school acceptable colors: black and red, black and grey and black and green.

My son's only complaint was that the smaller backpack he tested wasn't big enough to easily fit all of his middle school equipment. Despite his cramming everything into the backpack, the zippers and seams held up for an entire school year. I already have ordered LiftPacks for both my kids for this school year-in the largest size, designed to carry a laptop.

The backpacks are available in some stores and online. The small pack normally costs $34.95, the medium pack $59.95 and the big laptop pack $69.95, but they're on sale now for $24.95, $39.95 and $49.95, respectively, plus $10 shipping, on the Web at Cindy Richards

 Toy Tech at Elmhurst Historical Museum The Toy Tech exhibit at the Elmhurst Historical Museum is simple, yet informative. It unravels the mystery behind how toys work, from classics such as wooden tops and the hula hoop to relatively newer ones such as the View-Master and the Magna Doodle.

In most cases, the exhibit displays how a toy looks from the inside to show how it works. Children can look at the insides of a water pistol or an Etch A Sketch and their parents can read the accompanying text to explain the mechanism. They can also make airplanes and other toys with paper to take home with them.

The staff at the exhibit was friendly and got my son hooked on how to make the Slinky "walk" down a staircase made of blocks. His other favorite was the wooden tops, which I'm sure he registered as old-fashioned Beyblades.

My husband enjoyed the bout of nostalgia as he saw many of the classic toys he had played with growing up. He enjoyed showing our son how to play with them, as opposed to the other way around with today's new toys. Older children can grasp more of the science behind the exhibit and learn some fun facts about the history of toys.

The exhibit is fun yet not something that occupies an entire day. It is small and the most I think a family would spend at the exhibit is an hour. My 4-year-old son enjoyed the hands-on activities even though he was too young to understand how a kaleidoscope or labyrinth really works. The printed details besides each toy are more suitable for the 6-and-up age group. The entrance is not very stroller friendly because the rear handicap access is a small lift instead of a ramp. We just carried our baby and climbed the stairs before we put her in the umbrella stroller. For those families with larger or double strollers, maneuvering might get a little tricky as the hallway and exhibit are pretty small. Kiran Rasul "Toy Tech at the Elmhurst Historical Museum." 1-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday through Sept. 3. The museum is free, but the Fun and Games projects for the 4- to 12-year-olds, held 1-3 p.m. every Tuesday, cost $1-$2 per project. 120 E. Park Ave., Elmhurst. (630) 833-1457.


 Toymaker 3000 at the Museum of Science and Industry

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to design, market, engineer and sell a product? Have you wanted your kids to have a peek into this world? In its permanent exhibit on a fictional company known as Ball Enterprises, the Museum of Science and Industry offers the chance to view this process-and more.

The Toymaker 3000: An Adventure in Automation exhibit is a journey through the creation of a product, from the time it is drafted to the time it is sold. The exhibit begins in the lobby of Ball Enterprises, where you can learn about the firm's history and goals via an interactive wall screen.

Beyond the lobby, a more kid-friendly room awaits. In one area is a small climbing wall for kids to explore. As they make their way across the wall, captions light up, each one explaining a part of the financial process associated with a new product. Once they have scaled the wall, kids will find computers around the room where they can find questions about their surroundings. Kids may not pay much attention to this part of the exhibit, as many visiting youngsters seemed interested only in using the climbing wall for climbing, rather than for learning. And with the computers, kids seemed to randomly click around the screen. Adults and older children, on the other hand, may find this part of the exhibit interesting and may get more out of it than younger visitors.

The last part of the exhibit, the assembly room, was where all the kids flocked. In this room, robots assemble a toy made by Ball Enterprises, a spinning top dubbed "the Gravitron." You can watch for free, or pay $5 to see the robots assemble a Gravitron top for you to take home.

Around the edges of the room are robotics displays, some interactive, some just for viewing. One allows visitors to control robots' movements by tracing the letters to spell out "TOYMAKER 3000" with a special pen. When traced properly, a robot assembles a model of a house. The Computer Aided Design (CAD) corner of the room contained layouts of areas in the museum, including explanations on the importance and use of CAD itself. Tellingly, layers of dust can be found on some of the displays in this area, indicating that it might not be the exhibit's most riveting section.

While Toymaker 3000 contains lots of valuable and informative information, it may bore younger visitors to some extent. It does have fun and interactive tidbits that will keep many of them hooked for at least a portion of the exhibit.

Museum hours and admission prices vary, so call (773) 684-1414 or visit Shai Ligum, 15

Toymaker 3000. Museum of Science and Industry. 57th Street and Lake Shore Drive, Chicago. (773) 684-1414,

Kids Eat Chicago

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