The best indication a family show is doing everything right is that the adults in the audience are as fully entranced as the tiniest tots. This was clearly the case at a recent Chicago Shakespeare Theater matinee of “Seussical,” the 90-minute musical by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens inspired by the playfully anarchic spirit and quirky characters of the Dr. Seuss canon.
Of course you might blame all the fun on that irrepressible Cat in the Hat, the compulsive mischief-maker famed for his slouchy red-and-white-striped stovepipe headwear. But he is not alone.
“Seussical,” which debuted on Broadway in 2000, and has since undergone several incarnations (including a 2006 edition at CST), has been directed this time around by Scott Weinstein (the force behind Buzz22’s “She Kills Monsters”), in collaboration with choreographer Tommy Rapley and musical director Michael Mahler. A trio of ingenious talents, they make full use of a cast of stellar Chicago performers who exuberantly tap into all the inspired naughtiness and sheer loopy frenzy of the Seussian world.
Drawing primarily on “Horton Hears a Who!,” “Horton Hatches the Egg” and “The One Feather Tail of Gertrude McFuzz,” the musical is set in motion by the Cat (graceful, ever-engaging Alex Goodrich, who does a wickedly funny sendup of NPR’s Ira Glass). He also serves as wily “mentor” to a young girl (played by the charming, talented Emily Chang, soon to be a high school freshman), urging her to use her imagination and her brain (or, as the song puts it: “Oh, The Thinks You Can Think”).
Of course those “thinks” can be close to unthinkable. For example, there is Horton the Elephant (the easily winning George Andrew Wolff), a clueless but immensely loyal pachyderm with great compassion for the microscopic inhabitants of Whoville. Horton gets suckered into “babysitting” the egg hatched by sexy, restless playgirl Mayzie La Bird (Cory Goodrich, looking totally glam and sounding terrific). Meanwhile, he is very slow on the uptake when it comes to another bird, Gertrude McFuzz (Lillian Castillo in a hilarious, showstopping turn), who would do anything, including getting a fancy tail implant, to win his heart.
Adding to the fun are the Sour Kangaroo (Lisa Estridge, who belts out in R&B style while manipulating a puppet baby in her pouch), the Wickersham Brothers (Aaron Holland, Liam Quealy and Joseph Sammour on skates, skateboard and scooter), and the sassy Bird Girls (Ericka Mac, Allison Sill and Krystal Worrell).
The score of more than two dozen songs is a delicious pop pastiche full of clever lyrics, and it is played with zest (often from an onstage contraption that is part of Scott Davis’ whimsical set), with Alan Bukowiecki leading a rousing six-piece band. And finally, to the ideally named Theresa Ham, goes a steaming plate full of green eggs and ham in honor of her sensational costumes.
Note: Goodrich will be replaced by Jackson Evans beginning Aug. 6.