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This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the February 7,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Broadway Review: Seussical
Seussical, The Musical" is an unexpected joy. The
intermission talk I overheard at the Richard Rodgers Theater went
something like this: "This is charming. Why were the critics so
cruel?" "I can’t wait to tell my friends how good it is."
I couldn’t help but notice how many savvy people in attendance were
aware of this musical’s mostly negative reviews. I also couldn’t get
over how complete strangers were clustered in small groups —
the aisles — and vigorously praising the performances, the music,
the lyrics, the humor, the sets and costumes, but mostly the wondrous
and fantastical way that the Dr. Seuss stories were being presented.
A critic is guided by values beyond popular approval, looking for
values and artistic contributions, and putting the into a perspective
that includes possibilities, potential, and a legacy of what has come
and been achieved before. However, in this instance, audience approval
is well placed. "Seussical" has some significant flaws, but
it is also meets some very high standards, and it’s great fun for
the whole family.
The collaborators — Lynn Ahrens, the lyricist, Stephen Flaherty,
the composer, and Eric Idle, of Monty Python fame — have conjured
up thoroughly joyful impressions of an extraordinary world where
and lovable creatures and birds of many feathers offer some profound
life lessons. The score, as you would expect from the team responsible
for "Ragtime," is melodic, witty, and filled with the
and idiosyncratic wit and wisdom of its source. It is certainly a
score I plan to buy as soon as it is released.
Not having been raised myself on Dr. Seuss, the
tales they have assembled, combined, and tossed about in this
hodgepodge of a show are a revelation to me. Notwithstanding the easy
to assimilate moral and ethical lessons that are to be learned along
a very curious and circuitous route, we become irretrievably involved
in the main story, its peripheral adventures, and entertained by the
sheer exuberance of the talent on the stage.
It is hard not to be touched by the eternal optimism goodness and
gentleness of Horton the Elephant who achieves his just reward only
after withstanding humiliation after humiliation. How many of us will
identify with the instinctively moral young JoJo, who begins to
human nature only after he detects the fallibility of his parents,
and miraculously survives a war and the senselessly dictatorial
Genghis Kahn Schmitz (William Ryall, who also doubles as The Grinch)
at his military school. Horton is played with winning sweetness by
roly-poly Kevin Chamberlin, who last season received a Tony nomination
for his performance in "Dirty Blonde." Young Anthony Blair
Hall (Andrew Keenan-Bolger, at matinee performances) endearingly plays
Then there is the saga of a motley bird, Gertrude McFuzz (amusingly
twittered by Janine LaManna), who learns that wishing for and getting
the longest and most ostentatious plumage in the world does not
happiness. The self-centered Mayzie LaBird, who takes advantage of
Horton by having him sit on her unhatched egg while she pursues a
career in show business, is portrayed with send-up sensuality by
But at the center of the show is the wonderfully zany,
performance of David Shiner, as The Cat in the Hat, who provides the
show’s narrative drive, bridging and connecting the stories with
energy and high spirits. Although he is not a great singer, dancer
or actor, Shiner’s expert miming and timing (he co-starred with Bill
Irwin in the Broadway show "Fool Moon") is its own reward,
as he climbs, scampers about and interrelates with the audience and
children, in particular. Rosie O’Donnell replaced Shiner in
with performances through February 10.
Fans of the series will recognize and greet such favorites as the
aggressively Sour Kangaroo, played by rafters-shaking belter Sharon
Wilkins, the pompous Mayor of Whoville (Stuart Zabnit), Judge Yertle
the Turtle (Devin Richards), the citizens of Nool, and Whos, and the
performers and animals in Circus McGurkus, all of whom have been
and cartoonishly costumed by William Ivey Long. Eugene Lee’s fanciful
settings are artfully displayed in kaleidoscopic fashion as the story
unfolds. I’m sure that I was not the only one rooting for Horton to
save the lives of little people who live on a speck of dust on a sprig
of clover, wondering what will happen to him once the egg he is
on hatches, and worrying how stiff his sentence will be when he is
made to stand trial for his actions.
This show has gone through about as many trials and tribulations as
Horton himself. Years ago, the lack of freshness in Kathleen
choreography and the lack of coherency and continuity in the otherwise
masterful Frank Galati’s direction ("Ragtime" and "The
Grapes of Wrath") would have been solved by keeping the show on
the road longer before coming to New York. If putting the Seuss tales
on stage proves as daunting as putting on the macabre stories of
Gorey, the Seussical collaborators are to be commended for making
the event pleasurable and palatable.
Despite its obvious flaws, "Seussical, The Musical" resounds
with happy tunes, tells many an enchanting story, and sends you out
into the world feeling good. One of the best songs in the show is
"How Lucky You Are." That’s what you will be singing as you
and your family leave the theater. Three stars (you won’t feel
— Simon Saltzman
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