Firmly ensconced in the Richard Rodgers theatre, where it opened last night, Seussical, the new musical based on the Dr. Seuss children's books, appears still a work very much in progress, unfocused and ill-at-ease in its surroundings. Neither a fully or well realized musical for adults or a blatant entertainment for children, Seussical suffers most from the limitations of the material it's based on and its creators apparent inability to effectively adapt that material for the stage.
Perhaps at a different venue, with different expectations, this show would be more appealing. I think - and one of the songs in Seussical encourages us to think - if the cast had been put in ice skates and the show moved downtown to Madison Square Garden, I would be able to endorse a hypothetical Seussical on Ice as "a brilliant family entertainment, a dazzling musical spectacle sure to delight and enchant the young and young at heart." But, that's a different think entirely.
Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens have provided a number of catchy songs, and a less adroitly written book, which are performed by a very good cast. Kevin Chamberlin, as Horton the Elephant, brings a touching sense of longing and compassion to what is essentially an empty and thankless role, and seems to be able to hold this erratic production together by sheer will power. (Considering his performances both here and in last season's Dirty Blonde, Mr. Chamberlin is quickly establishing himself as one of Broadway's best, if most unlikely, leading men.) Michele Pawk brazenly triumphs over her material as Mayzie LaBird and Janine LaManna amusingly wrings every last ounce of pathos from the role of Gertrude McFuzz. If you liked David Shiner in Fool Moon, you'll like him here as the Cat in the Hat.
Without any solid core other than a few moments of self-righteous moralizing and cheap and easy sentimentality, Seussical has been given a stunning physical production, possibly in the hopes we won't notice the lack of substance. Kathleen Marshall's choreography is effective and appropriate. Eugene Lee's clever and inventive scenery, abetted by the wondrous lighting of Natasha Katz, fulfills a longing and very real need for spectacle. William Ivey Long's costumes, if somewhat less successful, are their equal in vibrant color and clever quotation. Mention must also be made of the superb sound design by Jonathan Deans and the thrilling orchestrations by Doug Besterman.
Seussical The Musical Book by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. Music by Stephen Flaherty. Directed by Frank Galati. Choreography by Kathleen Marshall. Scenery design by Eugene Lee. Costume design by William Ivey Long. Lighting design by Natasha Katz. Sound design by Jonathan Deans. Starring Kevin Chamberlin, Janine LaManna, Michele Pawk, Anthony Blair Hall, and David Shiner.
Theatre: Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 West 46th Street
Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.
Schedule: Tuesday through Saturday at 8 PM, Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM, Sunday at 3 PM.
Audience: Children under 4 are not permitted in the theatre.
Ticket prices: $25 - $85
Tickets online: Ticketmaster
Tickets by phone: Ticketmaster at (212) 307-4100
Tickets in person: Box Office hours Monday through Saturday 10 AM to 8 PM, Sunday Noon to 6 PM.