I’m going to be right up front: I don’t have kids. I have a darling inner child that I spoil and dote on every chance I get, but as far as a flesh and blood child . . . none exists. So if I’m a bit cynical when it comes to children’s theatre . . . Wait – hold up. Let me put my thing down, flip it and reverse it. Let me actually start by asking – is Seussical meant to be straight up children’s theatre? Well . . . that’s the question. There have been several Seussical incarnations: the full scale Broadway version, the one-act Off-Broadway version, and now this Theatreworks USA version which is, from what I gather (having never seen the Broadway version) more on par with shows for kids like Dora the Explorer, LIVE! or something by The Wiggles or Yo, etcetera . . . you get the idea. Please don’t make me say any more of these ridiculous phrases that pass as names of Children’s Shows.
At just about five foot three I’m usually the shortest person in the theatre which is why I’m grateful that my mom beat good posture into me. But at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts last Sunday I towered over the fellow audience members (much to the chagrin of the child who was left to sit behind me). I wasn’t the only adult there, but we (and by “we” I mean those over 15 years of age ) were vastly outnumbered. So, I’m going to assume that this production of Seussical at least was a full-on children’s theatre production.
As such, Seussical has all the ingredients of a successful children’s show: catchy songs, bright and colorful costumes, imaginative sets, lessons disguised as funny/silly stories and actors who are delivering over-choreographed moves to within an inch of their lives . . . all to set off the crown jewel: The intertwined stories of Doctor Seuss. These stories are as familiar as those of Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm to the Gen-Xers in the audience, and perhaps a delightful new discovery for the ankle biters in attendance. All told, when all is said and done there are around five Seuss stories represented including Horton Hears A Who, The Cat In The Hat, Horton Hatches An Egg, McElligot’s Pool, and Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories.
The score – written by the Tony Award winning team of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Aherns (who are responsible for an abundance of scores – everything from Ragtime to Anastasia to Aherns’ contributions on Schoolhouse Rock) – is catchy, upbeat and full of complex internal rhymes and rich harmonies – even dipping into a surprising minor chord and dissonant arch before Who-ing back off into the saccharine hills of Whoville again. The lyrics are often strong and positive; “Alone In The Universe” is a “Firework” for the rugrat set.
So it works – yes? Well . . . actually . . . now that you mention it . . .
What’s strange is the sub-plot of lovesick Gertrude McFuzz that somehow manages to be sexist and chauvinist, subtly telling little girls that it’s okay to bend over backwards for a guy who will never, ever, ever, return their affection. Gertrude manages to be the Duckie of this Seussian Pretty In Pink . . . and while Horton is off rolling around in the clover patch, singing a desperate love song to a flower, there is Gertrude taking PILLS, folks (that’s DRUGS, kids) in order to have a bigger tail so that she can get Horton to notice her. Slap a boob job on her and you might as well call her Heidi Pratt.
Sure, eventually she realizes she’s fine just the way she was . . . but she’s still goofy for Horton and spends all her free time finding that damn lost Whoville Clover for him while he’s sitting on an egg. Does he thank her by asking her out for a mocha latte and some conversation? Does he thank her by telling her what an amazing bird she is? Here – let me make this simple – - – does he thank her by showing that he even knows one thing about her at all? Nope. So, sure, “a person’s a person no matter how small” but the Seussical lesson really seems to be: if you find yourself falling in love with an elephant who’s sitting on an egg and talking to a flower, steer clear, little girl. Just trust me on this one.
Seussical was presented at Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts by TheatreworksUSA one afternoon only.
To find out more about TheatreworksUSA click here
To book a show at your venue, please call Barbara Sandek, Beth Prather, or Steve Cochran at (212) 647-1100