“Oh, the thinks you can think!
Any thinker who thinks
Can come up with a few!”
Much of the charm of many festive shows comes from their innate familiarity – childhood pantomimes, the ever-present Dickens, the ageless music of The Nutcracker – but in an increasingly global cultural world, other shows are attempting to crack the family market at this potentially lucrative time of year for theatres. Seussical the Musical is one such show, returning to the Arts Theatre after a run last Christmas and though the world of Dr Seuss may not have quite the same purchase here as it does in the US, its appeal is undeniable.
Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens’ musical premiered on Broadway in 2000 but it is the ‘Theatre for Young Audiences’ version that Sell A Door Theatre Company have brought to the UK, a tale suitable for all ages woven together from a number of Dr Seuss’ stories. So the famous Cat in the Hat is there, introducing us to the weirdly wonderful way in which language is used in this world, and we soon get sucked into the adventures of Horton Hears A Who, as a kindly elephant tries to save a tiny world that exists on a speck of dust.
A 12-strong ensemble are highly enthusiastic in Kirk Jameson’s production, surrounded by Richard Evans’ attractive technicolour set and inventive costumery, and their hard work largely pays off in the end. The initially convoluted story slowly develops into something lovely as everyone gets to learn a lesson about something, and Ste Clough’s Horton is a beautifully sensitive central presence as he sets about his various endeavours. Kirsty Marie Ayers is also excellent as Gertrude McFuzz, who has her own journey to take in order to help Horton as she so wishes to do.
But the choice to use backing tracks in lieu of live music inhibits the show, robbing the atmosphere of one of the key components of great musicals. Additionally, the sound is occasionally very muddy and so lyrical clarity is often not what it should be, some cast members prioritising vocal gymnastics over telling the story of their characters, and so risking losing the attention of the audience, whether old or young. But with Elliot Fitzpatrick’s twinkling Cat in the Hat guiding us through to a stomping finale of ‘Green Eggs and Ham’, Seussical just about redeems itself.