Friday, April 18, 2008

A night on the town with Dr. Seuss

kw: theater reviews, musicals

When our son was in high school, he played in the pit orchestra for the school's production of Seussical, the Musical. Now, in college, he's gotten involved with the Livingston Theater Company (affiliated with Rutgers University), which is putting on the same musical. Last evening we attended opening night.

It is interesting to contrast the very different interpretations of the directors. Both productions had cut scenes, but with quite different cutting. I suspect the entire performance, uncut, would run three hours; both HS and LTC versions run about two hours, excluding intermission. In the HS version, Jojo is introduced as a Who from the outset; for LTC he is a "bigger world" boy who thinks up the Who planet, then is thrust into Whoville by the Cat in the Hat.

The acting and directorial interpretation of the Cat differs the most. At the HS, a very energetic young woman played Cat as a very upbeat, optimistic, cheerful character. The LTC actor, a young man, played Cat as more sardonic, wisecracking, almost cynical.

The HS staging, on a large stage in a 1000-seat auditorium, with the pit orchestra between the audience and stage, was quite lush compared to LTC. The latter, on a floor-level stage in a 300-seat arena-shaped semicircular theater, was spare and static. The HS had room for an explicit Whoville set to be rolled in, and jungle environ props. LTC used evocation and lighting to suggest changes of locale. The size constraints also placed the orchestra backstage, which led to occasional timing faults. You just about have to have a video feed to the conductor to get away with that.

Having grown up on Dr. Seuss's books, and having read a great many of them to our son, I could have dwelt on the differences in the mashups (such as which character finds the lost clover), but chose instead to thoroughly enjoy both productions (a couple years apart) as presented.

The keys to a good Seussical are high-energy players and a very strong, focused Horton—he is more crucial than Cat is. Both productions excelled.

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