Chicago Theater Review: SEUSSICAL (Chicago Shakespeare Theater)

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by Lawrence Bommer on July 13, 2014

in Theater-Chicago


“Oh! The Thinks You Can Think!” proclaims this joyous romp as it proves what it belts. One of those powerful pensées is: “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” That truth from Dr. Seuss sits well with the kids flocking to Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Courtyard mainstage. Because Seussical is the kind of nostalgically “now” The Cat in the Hat (Alex Goodrich) shows JoJo (Emily Chang) that, through the power of her imagination, anything can happen in the song “It’s Possible” in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Seussical, directed by Scott Weinsteinshow that can both mock away grownups’ insecurities and teach kids that good deeds don’t require other people’s approval. (You could wait forever to do the right thing, something Huck Finn learned by trusting his instincts and not his conscience.)

This 80-minute version of the Broadway musical, merrily moored on Navy Pier and exuberantly staged by Scott Weinstein, teems with pop-up storybook fun and circus charm (despite occasionally incomprehensible lyrics). Based on Theodore Geisel’s beloved rhyming parables (Horton Hears a Who!, The One Feather Tail of Miss Gertrude McFuzz, and Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!), this rollicking musical by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, creators of Ragtime and Once On This Island, celebrates the virtue of taking care and taking charge.

Horton the Elephant (George Andrew Wolff) protects his precious speck of dust on a clover to the delight of the Bird Girls (Krystal Worrell and Ericka Mac) in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Seussical, directed by Scott Weinstein.Much as Saint-Exupéry’s little prince must protect his rose and his tiny planet from encroaching baobab trees, Horton the elephant is driven to shelter the invisible world of the Whos from destruction while dutifully hatching an egg abandoned by the literal birdbrain lazy Mayzie. A last-minute trial scene almost criminalizes our noble pachyderm as a deluded do-gooder. But, just as they saved Tinker Belle from Captain Hook’s poison, the audience intervenes to proclaim the Whos’ right to be, however tiny (that’s a notion that comes with being a kid.)

Gertrude McFuzz implores Horton the Elephant (George Andrew Wolff) to look up from the clover in “Notice Me Horton” in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Seussical, directed by Scott Weinstein.The book remains faithful to Seuss’ whimsical inspiration, along with strategically updated ad libs about Channel 11 pledge drives and the polar vortex. Flaherty’s score combines the nostalgic drive of Ragtime and the calypso-tropical bounce of Island as it detonates the fun inside Seuss’ rollicking lyrics, contagiously ending with a rampaging chorus of “Green Eggs and Ham.” Michael Mahler’s wizardly musical direction and the six-piece orchestra leave no note behind. Tommy Rapley’s seemingly inevitable choreography seems to create these songs instead of just illustrate them.

Horton the Elephant (George Andrew Wolff, at center) reluctantly takes over egg-tending duties from Mayzie La Bird (Cory Goodrich), while the Bird Girls (Ericka Mac, Allison Sill and Krystal Worrell) look on in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Seussical, directed by Scott Weinstein.Seussical rejoices in winning work from George Andrew Wolff’s plucky Horton, Emily Chang as a courageous little JoJo Who, a surrogate for all the kids in the crowd; Alex Goodrich as the impish Cat in the Hat (mocking everyone from Ira Glass to PeeWee Herman); Lisa Estridge as a sassy Sour Kangaroo; Lillian Goodrich, reinventing Hairspray’s Tracy Turnblad  as Horton’s adoring Gertrude McFuzz, who learns that feathers don’t make the bird; and, inevitably, the irrepressible Cory Goodrich as both Yertle the Turtle and languorous Mayzie, a goodtime girl who injects surprising salaciousness into the show–when you hear this avian siren belt out “How Lucky You Are,” you are.

Residents of Whoville lament living on the tiniest planet in the sky in “Here on Who” in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Seussical, directed by Scott Weinstein.Scott Davis’ electric set instantly morphs into Horton’s vine-laden jungle or Mayzie’s Caribbean sanctuary, while trap doors suggest the Whos’ miniature realm. Theresa Ham’s rapidly-changed costumes range from the Whos’ dour 50s conventionality to the avian flamboyance of mischievous Mayzie. Backing up the fun are the simian Wickersham Brothers (Aaron Holland, Liam Quealy, Joseph Sammour) and the eponymous Bad Girls (Ericka Mac, Allison Sill, Krystal Worrell).

Happily, here the only one to lay an egg is Mayzie–and it’s intentional. And the Grinch is nowhere in sight.

photos by Michael Brosilow

Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Courtyard Theater on Navy Pier
scheduled to end on August 17, 2014
for tickets, call 312.595.5600 or visit

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