Who doesn’t love Dr. Seuss? Just the sight of that familiar red-and-white striped hat brings back fond memories from childhood. And it seems that, whether you’re a child or adult, everyone has a favorite Dr. Seuss story (for the record, mine’s Green Eggs and Ham).
Fortunately at Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s performance of Seussical, you don’t have to pick just one. This abbreviated version eliminates a few plotlines and songs from the original Broadway musical. Instead, the lively musical cleverly intertwines plots and characters from 14 beloved Dr. Seuss books, including Horton Hears a Who!, Horton Hatches the Egg, and The One Feather Tail of Miss Gertrude McFuzz, plus throwaway references to If I Ran the Circus, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish and I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Solew.
Thanks to these influences, the plot itself is a bit tricky to summarize, but it’s narrated by the Cat in the Hat. Horton the Elephant discovers a speck of dust that contains a whole world of Whos, and has to protect them – and later an egg – from the other animals in the Jungle of Nool. The lessons, told through catchy songs, are simple, focused on such Seussian lessons as “A person’s a person no matter how small” and the power of imagination. There’s even a sweet story of friendship (or maybe more?) between Horton and the oft-overlooked Gertrude, who also has to learn to be content with herself – one tail feather and all.
The colorful, creative sets and costumes look straight out of Seuss’ pages, while the talented cast of just a dozen does great work transitioning between characters and musical styles. I loved their choice to make the troublemaking monkeys extreme sports enthusiasts, and chuckled at some of the characterizations (Ira Glass, anyone?) by the Cat in the Hat that will go right over kids’ heads. And the theater-in-the-round style of the facility means there are no bad seats and the audience is fully integrated into the action.
While all the actors do an excellent job, I was particularly impressed with young Emily Chang, a local actress, who acts as a worthy – and strong-voiced – audience surrogate. Her performance in the delightful “It’s Possible” was an unexpected highlight, thanks to some lovely staging and singing.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater recommends the show for ages 5 and up, and the majority of the audience at the show I attended seemed to fall between the ages of 5 and 10. But with a run time of only 80 minutes, my two-year-old nephew sat entranced throughout the play (although there are a few intense moments if your little ones are a bit fearful). There’s no intermission, so get bathroom breaks out of the way before the show. And if you have Dr. Seuss gear, don’t be afraid to bring it – I couldn’t even count all the red-and-white striped hats. After all, who doesn’t love Dr. Seuss?