Corrections or additions?

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 —

blocking

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

strange

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

sentiments

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

fabulist-like

tales they have assembled, combined, and tossed about in this

delightful

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

understand

human nature only after he detects the fallibility of his parents,

and miraculously survives a war and the senselessly dictatorial

General

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

JoJo.

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

guarantee

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

Michele

Pawk.

But at the center of the show is the wonderfully zany,

audience-friendly

performance of David Shiner, as The Cat in the Hat, who provides the

show’s narrative drive, bridging and connecting the stories with

ebullient

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

mid-January,

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

gloriously

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

sitting

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

Marshall’s

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

Edward

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

cheated).

— Simon Saltzman

Seussical, The Musical, Richard Rodgers Theater, 226 West

46 Street, 212-307-4100. $25 to $85.


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