Seussical unlocks audience imagination at Seattle Children's Theatre

Seattle Children's Theatre productions have long earned the respect of their audiences by respecting, in turn, the emotional and intellectual range of a child's imagination. The tradition continues in the current production of "Seussical," a musical based on the works of the iconic children's author Theodor "Dr." Seuss Geisel.

Instead of creating a concrete world to be passively observed, it puts the imagination of each and every audience member in the driver's seat.

The action is built around an amalgam of many beloved Seuss classics, but the narrative doesn't rely on the audience's familiarity with the base material. Written for the stage by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, "Seussical" could easily have become an episodic affair, the story of "Yertle the Turtle" segueing into "The Cat in the Hat," etc.

Instead, they frame the story within the "thinks" of a single child, a boy named Jojo who brings a world to life on a wild flight of spontaneous fancy. The Cat in the Hat is his guide, spurring him on and narrating the action through rhymes alternately taken from, and inspired by, Seuss' work.

The inherent lyricism of Seuss' rhymes is the basis for the musical numbers that pop up throughout the play. The numbers themselves are standard Broadway musical fare, but the actors imbue them with enough over-the-top energy and whimsy to make them work.

In contrast to the music, the lighting and set design are refreshingly new and abstract. The set is primarily made up of elaborate, bright-yellow Seuss-esque flights of stairs leading to no place in particular. The backdrop is a dizzying swirl of colors that take on different hues as the lighting changes.

The actors are able to give all the context necessary to make the story work, while the colors and lighting are allowed simply to set an emotional tone for each scene.

Daniel Dennis is a perfectly gawky and explosive Cat in the Hat, and Southeast Seattle resident Eli Higham is an irresistibly curious and steadfast Jojo. But it is Kristen Hopkins in the role of Gertrude McFuzz who is able to bring out the few real moments of pathos in the production.

Gertrude, the bird with only one feather in her tail, is Horton's next-door neighbor and irrevocably smitten secret admirer. Gertrude's quest for love, acceptance and, finally, redemption give a few ounces of honest emotional weight - a bit of complex angst - to the show.

Much of Seuss' work is moral fable at heart and "Seussical" stays true to its source. Seuss' stock in trade was the vastness of human potential, the overcoming of the limitations placed on us by our fears, our faults and our beliefs.

If "Seussical" illustrates nothing else, it shows that hope born of this kind of quiet strength offers a chance at redemption to any person. No matter how small.

"Seussical" plays at the Seattle Children's Theatre until Nov. 18. Ticket prices are $17-19 child, student, senior; $24-26 adult. Ticket office: 441-3322

Sean Molnar may be contacted via

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