Seussical wins over one Lawrentian

Devin Burke

The Whos of Whoville in the national tour of Seussical the Musical. (Fox Cities Performing Arts Center)

On Tuesday night at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, Appleton’s men weren’t the only audience members wearing whiskers.Kids of all ages sported the telltale signs of cat-whiskers, all in homage to the star of Seussical the Musical, the Cat in the Hat. Nearly every seat in the house was full, and the hall was a sea of people dressed up in red and white stripes.

I have to admit that I had no reason for going to the performance beyond the free press pass that the PAC graciously provided. My expectations did not inspire much enthusiasm.

But the show had plenty of entertainment for me as well as for the hundreds of thrilled kids and their pleasantly surprised parents. The two and a half hour show went by quickly, and before I knew it, I’d just been treated to a fine production of a Broadway musical.

For anyone who is old enough to remember reading Dr. Seuss way back when, the show offers a number of highlights. Cathy Rigby, the star of the show, who recreates her Broadway role as the Cat in the Hat, is as good as the posters say she is. Rigby has superb comic timing, and she captured the mischievous yet oddly in-control quality of her character.

Besides her acting talent, Rigby is also a two-time Olympic gymnast, with 12 international medals to her name, and her athleticism allowed for some impressive stunts during the show.

Another outstanding cast member was Eric Leviton, who played Horton the Elephant, the protagonist of sorts. Leviton, who has toured in Damn Yankees with Jerry Lewis, played the part as believably as one could play an elephant that’s dressed in shorts, a t-shirt, and a winter hat.

His understated comedy was just right for the earnest and quiet pachyderm, and neither he nor any of the cast acted condescendingly toward their characters.

Other perks oriented toward an older crowd included a few good jabs at trash TV hosts like Sally Jesse Raphael, various parts of the media, and a great bit about the rudeness of cell phone users in theatres.

It makes sense that a Broadway show would spend about five minutes outside the narrative to take shots at cell phone users, since New York recently banned cell phones from public performances.

One of the recurring numbers, “How Lucky You Are,” will remind many of the finale from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. This number, like its cousin “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” always comes back when some of the characters are facing impending doom.

The reference may be intentional or at least inspired, considering that Monty Python alum Eric Idle co-wrote Seussical.

The show stayed very close to the work of Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss), and in keeping with that vision included morals on a wide variety of subjects, from drugs to the environment, trust, loyalty, independent thinking, and pacifism.

The depiction of war, with General Genghis Khan Schmitz, brought back some of Geisel’s other anti-war books and films, like The Butter Battle Book, which dealt with nuclear war. In light of recent events, the war scenes were decidedly less funny than they may have been when the show premiered.

The production had great imagination, especially with costumes and some impressive numbers using black lights. While they could have been even more fantastic, the sets and costumes did not distract from the actors, which was as it should be.

The Grammy-nominated music had several winning numbers, although at times the melodic writing seemed a bit awkward for the voice and the text. The best number, in terms of melody that stays with you after you leave the theater, was “Solla Sollew.”

Although the first performance had a few minor technical difficulties with microphones not being turned on at the right time, overall it was a very fine production and well-deserving of the immediate standing ovation it received following the finale.

The hall is still dealing with some balance issues between the stage and the pit, but they seemed improved compared to the first performances given at the beginning of the PAC’s inaugural season.

The performance and the enthusiasm of the young-at-heart audience got to me, and I left thankful that I’d taken the time out of my busy college schedule to enjoy one of the many acts that the PAC has to offer. When I got home, I started penciling PAC events into my calendar.

Tickets range from $28.50 to $53.50. The show will remain at the PAC through Feb. 23. For tickets, contact Ticketmaster at (920) 731-5000, or you can purchase them online at

http://www.foxcitiespac.com.

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