Review: Seussical (Young People’s Theatre)

Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre presents its new production of Seussical through December 30.

Like millions of kids around the world, I grew up reading Dr. Seuss but I really didn’t appreciate the depth of Seuss’ brilliance until much later in life; the beauty of his text and its pithy life lessons still resonate with me today.

Recently, when my cousin asked me to do a reading at her wedding ceremony we chose Dr. Seuss’ Oh the Places You’ll Go, a far more sincere and meaningful piece for me than any religious text could ever be.

I had to rehearse a lot for the reading. I contend that Seuss is as difficult to perform as Shakespeare. Think about it; both aren’t written in the everyday English we speak and to effectively read them you have to find the rhythm of the text and deliver it with a very exact cadence and inflection. That lilting, lyrical quality is a huge part of the charm of Seuss.

This was my first time seeing Seussical, the Broadway musical based on Seuss’ body of work. The draw for me was the writing team of composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens who were the creative force behind Ragtime.

The version of Seussical performed by the Young People’s Theatre (formerly the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People) is a re-worked, shorter version of the original Broadway show and I find it works very well in terms of flow and pacing.

The plot primarily features the story of Horton Hears a Who with the character of the Cat in the Hat weaving in and out of the proceedings as a de-facto narrator/ringmaster.

Much of Seuss’ lyrical style comes through in the script and the musical numbers succeed in creating an extension of Seuss’ universe. Judith Bowden’s sets and costumes are also eye catching and appropriately colourful and wacky for the world of Dr. Seuss.

What I really liked about the show is that it doesn’t short-change the presentation or attention to detail just because it’s a show for children and it doesn’t talk down to the audience. The tone is child-like, not childish.

The cast also features some primo Toronto theatre talent. George Masswohl is the highlight for me in his role as Horton the Elephant. Masswohl imbues the character with a depth and humanity; he rarely goes for the obvious, easy laughs. He explores Horton’s pathos and I’ll admit he nearly had me tearing up during a couple of his songs. Masswohl delivers a grounded performance that serves as the perfect counterpoint to the craziness of the characters in the ensemble.

Other standouts include the always-effervescent Sharron Matthews as Mayzie La Bird with the big tail, Damian Atkins who deftly pulls off the character of the Cat in the Hat and his many outlandish incarnations and Nichola Lawrence who delivers an impressive vocal performance as well as some scene-stealing comedy as the sassy Sour Kangaroo.

True to form for Dr. Seuss, Seussical is geared toward children but their parents will also be able to find beauty in the story. The show is fun, whimsical, visually appealing and features some fine musical numbers. It’s a great show to bring the whole family to. 

Details:

  • Seussical is playing at Young People’s Theatre (165 Front Street East) until December 30, 2011
  • Shows run Monday to Thurday at 10:15 AM & 1PM with some exceptions, Saturday & Sunday at 2PM, Dec. 27 to 30 at 11 AM and 2 PM.
  • Ticket prices range from $15-$20 + HST & service charges
  • Tickets are available online, youngpeoplestheatre.ca, or through the Box Office at 416.862.2222

Photo credit:

Photo of the cast of Seussical by Daniel Alexander