Chicago Theatre Review
How Lucky You Are!
Seussical – Chicago Shakespeare Theatre
Hot town: summer in the city, and Chicagoans are so lucky. This exciting metropolis is certainly no Second City when it comes to first-rate theatrical entertainment. With so much from which to choose, Chicago Shakespeare’s annual summer family musicals have earned a place at the front of the pack. This year’s 75-minute Broadway caliber extravaganza is an amalgamation of 12 Dr. Seuss classics into one charming story, filled with oodles of catchy, toe-tapping songs by Broadway composers Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, and featuring additional script material by Monty Python’s Eric Idle.
Originally a two-act musical when it opened in 2000 on Broadway, the musical garnered disappointing reviews and closed sooner than expected. The chief criticism was that the script was a hodge-podge. It ambitiously tried to cover too many of Dr. Seuss’ stories and characters. The production earned a few Tony nominations, but its creators listened to the criticism and ultimately reworked the piece several times. Gone were most of the extraneous story lines and unnecessary characters, as well as some musical numbers. While still containing 27 songs, including an overture that cleverly sets up the show’s premise, the new version swiftly moves along with nary a moment of restlessness for the five and up audience.
The show opens on a little girl (the terrifically played by Emily Chang) discovering a strange red and white top hat center stage. By moving it she can control the overture music and finally sets the story into motion. Seuss fans will immediately recognize the Cat in the Hat’s colorful chapeau and inevitably the hyper-energetic feline appears onstage to serve as narrator, tour guide and to pop in and out of the story in a variety of hilarious roles. The story centers around Horton Hears a Who! and Horton Hatches the Egg. There are side trips to McElligot’s Pool, Oh the Thinks You Can Think, If I Ran the Circus and seven other favorites. Some stories are represented only as songs (“Green Eggs and Ham,” “Solla Sollew”) while others are simply referenced (The Cat in the Hat, How the Grinch Stole Christmas). But it’s the stories about Horton the Elephant, his adoring feathered neighbor, Gertrude McFuzz and another egotistic neighbor, Mayzie Le Bird that make up the heart of the show, along with the plight of JoJo and her Whoville parents and friends.
Played on, above and all around CST’s Courtyard Stage upon Scenic Designer Scott Davis’ detailed, colorful set, lovingly inspired by Seuss’ own drawings (feast your eyes upon Michael Mahler’s rich, full-sounding orchestra situated upstage that looks exactly like a picture from one of the books!), and costumed by the extraordinary Theresa Ham, with wigs and make-up designs created by Melissa Veal, audiences will easily be transported to the wonderful world of Seuss. Seasoned with Jesse Klug’s magical lighting effects and incorporating puppets designed and built by Lolly Extract and Amber Marsh, this production lacks nothing.
Scott Weinstein’s direction is sharp and focused (except when actors are sometimes staged blocking the audience’s view of the main characters), and his vision for this production is not only funny and touching, it’s a loving homage to the author’s many beloved books on his 110th birthday. Tommy Rapley’s choreography is sassy and zippy, and inspires audiences to want to join the actors dancing.
Weinstein’s cast is brilliantly talented, completely captivating and polished like a diamond. Alex Goodrich’s Cat in the Hat is a wonderful tour guide throughout, demonstrating his comic genius and acting versatility, impersonating famous pop icons as well as playing other Dr. Seuss characters. (Note that Goodrich will play the role only through August 3, at which time the equally versatile and multitalented Jackson Evans will take over the role). George Andrew Wolff is a sweetly lovable and earnest Horton the Elephant. Blessed with a Broadway caliber tenor, Mr. Wolff charmingly sells each and every song, particularly the lovely “Alone in the Universe,” sung with the talented young Emily Yang.
Lillian Castillo is equally heartbreaking and hilarious as Gertrude McFuzz, Horton’s biggest fan who will do anything for her unobservant friend. Blessed with a full, rich voice, her 11th hour “All for You” is both touching and melodramatically funny. Cory Goodrich, who impresses in every role she plays, is a sexy, hilariously flirty and egocentric Mayzie Le Bird. Leaving Horton to care for egg, she heads off to the tropics for a long vacation where the actress brings down the house with her Latin-inspired, “Amayzing Mayzie.”
Other cast members who impress include belter supreme Lisa Estridge as the Sour Kangaroo; Ericka Mac and Aaron Holland as JoJo’s parents, the Whoville’s first family; Liam Quealy, Joseph Sammour and, doing double duty, Aaron Holland as the goofy primate Wickersham Brothers; and Allison Sill, Krystal Worrell and Ericka Mac (also doing double duty) as the belting Greek chorus-like Bird Girls.
Both local audiences and tourists visiting Chicago this summer can escape the heat and hubbub of Navy Pier by stopping by CST for this family show that will warm their hearts with its story of friendship, provide more than an hour of laughter and set their feet a-tapping with its infectious songs and dances. It’s not New York, but Scott Weinstein’s production is every bit as polished as anything on Broadway, and at a fraction of the cost. With the talent this production offers, audiences will discover firsthand “How Lucky You Are.”
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented July 12-August 17 by Chicago Shakespeare Theatre on Navy Pier, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 312-595-5600 or by going to www.chicagoshakes.com
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.