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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Lucille Lortel

By Matt Windman

  Karen Weinberg and Shorey Walker

Like Merrily We Roll Along and Candide, Seussical is bound to stand out in future musical theater history books for its long-winded trajectory. Once designed to be an intimately theatrical Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty show like Once On This Island and Lucky Stiff, it instead morphed into a big-budgeted Broadway spectacle.

And though expected to be a big family-friendly hit, it instead received disappointing reviews and closed after a mere 198 performances at a $10 million loss. (And let's not forget the embarrassing decision by the Weisslers to replace David Shiner as the Cat in the Hat with Rosie O'Donnell and then Cathy Rigby.)

But once Music Theatre International began freely licensing the show, this mixture of about a dozen different Dr. Seuss stories sporting about a dozen different musical styles became the most popular title among middle schools, theater camps and community theaters. Now, in an unusual kind of revival, Seussical has returned to New York in an abridged, 85-minute one-act format produced by Theatreworks/USA, which offers free musical theater for children each summer at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on Christopher Street.

The cast has been reduced to about a dozen young adults, who are unfortunately singing along to a pre-recorded soundtrack of the score. Moreover, Marcia Milgrom Dodge's staging grounds the musical within the confines of an elementary school playground, where the musical is suddenly conjured. Following through with this concept, elaborate scenic effects the have been replaced with imaginative cues. A rag, for instance, now represents Gertrude McFuzz's one-feathered tale and a basketball represents Mayzie LaBird's egg and nest.

On the positive, this production marks a vast improvement on the Broadway production by cutting the fat out of the musical, tossing aside an entire military subplot lifted from Dr. Seuss's The Butter Battle Book. But on the negative, as has always been the case, only about half of the show's songs really shine, while the rest feels like a pastiche of too many song styles (hip hop, swing, gospel, to name a few) and an overindulgence of mugging from the Cat in the Hat, here played by the energetic Shorey Walker.

But let's keep this in perspective - even if Seussical remains problematic, and even if this production lacks a live orchestra, it's for free. And it's for kids. Who's complaining?



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