Chicago Theatre Review
Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!
Seussical – Marriott Theatre
Just tell yourself, “How Lucky You Are,” Chicagoans. In a holiday season, stuffed like a Christmas stocking, with dozens of entertainment options everywhere you look, this exciting production stands out as one of the most tuneful musicals around. It’s a welcome addition and a terrific alternative to all the Nutcrackers and Scrooges around. This 65-minute Broadway caliber extravaganza is actually an amalgamation of eight Dr. Seuss classics rolled into one charming story. The show is filled with oodles of catchy, toe-tapping, pop/rock songs by Broadway composers Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (“Ragtime,” “Once on this Island,” “Rocky”), featuring additional script material by Monty Python’s Eric Idle.
Originally a two-act musical when it opened on Broadway 15 years ago, the show garnered disappointing reviews and closed much sooner than expected. The chief criticism was that the script was overly ambitious, trying to include too many of Dr. Seuss’ stories and characters in one show. The production earned a few Tony nominations, but its creators listened to the criticism and ultimately reworked the piece. Gone now are the extraneous story lines and unnecessary characters, as well as a few musical numbers. While still containing a full score, 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.
This production opens with the Emcee, the beloved Cat in the Hat in his signature red-and-white top hat, conducting the overture from center stage. This hyper-energetic feline becomes our narrator, tour guide and even pops in and out of the story playing a variety of comic roles. The main plot revolves 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 other favorites. Some stories emerge only in song (“Green Eggs and Ham,” “Solla Sollew”) while others are simply referenced. But the heart of this sweet, dazzling musical showcases Horton the Elephant, his adoring and adorable feathered friend, Gertrude McFuzz, and their flashy, egotistic neighbor, Mayzie Le Bird. Together with an ensemble of other Dr. Seuss characters, Horton tries to save the lives of little JoJo and her Whoville family and friends.
Rachel Rockwell’s direction is sharp and focused, while her sassy choreography makes this show as humorous as it is heartfelt. Her production is a loving homage to everyone’s favorite childhood author. Played all over the Marriott stage and up and down the aisles, scenic designer Thomas Ryan’s detailed, colorful set, adorned with clever props and set pieces by Jeff Kmiec, seems to be inspired by the author’s own illustrations and provides a feast for the eyes. Nancy Missimi’s scrumptious costumes, wigs and make-up designs transport audiences to the wonderful world of Seuss. Seasoned by Greg Hofmann’s sparkling lighting, Ryan T. Nelson’s savvy musical direction and Patti Garwood’s live accompaniment, this production is a taste treat.
Ms. Rockwell’s cast is accomplished, brilliantly talented and absolutely captivating. George Keating’s Cat in the Hat is wonderful throughout, showcasing his comic genius, acting versatility and a comfort working with the kids in the audience as moderator for the post show Q & A. Michael Aaron Lindner is a sweetly lovable and earnest Horton the Elephant. Blessed with a Broadway caliber voice, Mr. Lindner sells each and every song with verve and charm, particularly the lovely “Alone in the Universe,” sung with gifted and winsome young Sage Harper, as JoJo (alternating the role with Ava Morse).
Talented Landree Fleming is sweetly charming, 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 touching and melodramatically funny. Stephanie Binetti impresses as sexy, self-centered and flirtatious Mayzie Le Bird. Leaving Horton to care for her egg, she heads off to the tropics for a long vacation, where she dazzles with her Latin-inspired, “Amazing Mayzie.”
Other cast members who impress include belter supreme Alexis Rogers as the Sour Kangaroo; Johanna McKenzie Miller and Brandon Springman as Whoville’s First Family and JoJo’s caring parents; Springman, Liam Quealy and Eric Lewis, monkeying around as the goofy Wickersham Brothers; and Samantha Pauly, Ms. Miller and Ms. Rogers (all doing double duty) as a Greek chorus of belting Birdie Babes.
Audiences looking for a welcome alternative to the usual holiday fare will relish this family musical that offers the same rewards as any Christmas show. It will warm the heart with its story of friendship, provide an hour of laughter provided by an ensemble of beloved characters and set everyone’s feet a-tapping with its infectious songs and dances. No, it’s not New York, but Rachel Rockwell’s production is just as polished as anything on Broadway and, “Oh, the Thinks You Can Think,” at a fraction of the cost and with free parking, to boot. With all the talent this production offers, audiences will be telling themselves, “How Lucky You Are.”
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented November 11-December 30 by the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, IL.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 847- 634-0200 or by going to their website at www.MarriottTheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.