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Have a ball in the mall: Empty Macy’s at Water Tower Place becomes Dr. Seuss wonderland

Visitors to the temporary exhibit can interact with the Cat in the Hat, fish for presents in a Grinch room and hunt for the characters from ‘There’s a Wocket in My Pocket.’

A nink in the sink is one of the characters to be found in a room based on “There’s a Wocket in My Pocket” at “The Dr. Seuss Experience.”
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Fans of Dr. Seuss get their chance to walk into and interact with several imaginary worlds from the beloved children’s books beginning Friday.

An interactive exhibit called “The Dr. Seuss Experience” opens at Water Tower Place after successful runs in Toronto and Houston and will run through Jan. 2, although it may be extended depending on demand, company officials said.

From the “Circus McGurkus” carousel (inspired by “If I Owned a Circus”) that can be seen through the corner window at Michigan and Pearson, to the maze of balloons from “The Lorax,” to a 3,500-pound “Thromdimulator” — the machine Herbie broke in the book “Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?” — visitors can do more than just walk through and look.

In another room, inspired by “There’s a Wocket in My Pocket,” kids can go on a scavenger hunt and seek out the 32 characters, some in plain sight like the Bofa on the Sofa — and some hiding, like the Jertain in the Curtain.

And of course, there’s a room inspired by Dr. Seuss’ best-known book, “The Cat in the Hat,” where kids can interact with an electronic Cat In The Hat character equipped with a hidden camera and microphone and manned by the team member behind the scenes.

“The Dr. Seuss Experience” staffer Kwyn Morrison demonstrates how kids can fish for presents in a room based on “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

In the room inspired by “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” kids can fish out holiday gifts from a faux river — and at certain times groups will be broken up into teams to compete against each other, said Spencer Prelletz, general manager of “The Dr. Seuss Experience.”

The interactive exhibit is a partnership between Kilburn Live, a Los Angeles-based entertainment company, and Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the company started by Audrey Geisel, the widow of Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel).

The “Dr. Seuss Experience” carousel is visible from the corner window at Michigan and Pearson.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Kilburn Live CEO Mark Manuel, speaking at a preview of the exhibit on Thursday, said the recent departure of Macy’s at Water Tower Place provided a great opportunity to stage the exhibit in the heart of the Magnificent Mile just in time for holiday shoppers.

“This location is phenomenal,” Manuel said. “It would have been a difficult proposition two years ago. Fortunately for us, unfortunately for retail, retail is struggling.”

Looking at a room filled with pink clovers, Manuel, who said he regularly visits Chicago, reminisced about the transformation.

“This used to be where the makeup counter of Macy’s was, and look at what we transformed it to. It’s amazing when I look at it. I visualize what it used to be because I used to come here a lot.”

A room filled with pink clovers lies where the Macy’s makeup counter used to be at “The Dr. Seuss Experience.”
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

While families are the target demographic, organizers also expect a lot of tech-savvy adults: “Because it’s very Instagrammable-photo-friendly, we’ll get a lot of millennials and Generation Z coming in.”

While the exhibit gift shop sells stuffed animals and toys related to characters in the books, it’s the books themselves (also available there) that Manuel hopes they buy. “That’s certainly part of the goal, to encourage reading,” he said. “The power of imagination is one of our themes.”

The Cat in the Hat’s helpers Thing 1 and Thing 2 roam the rooms of “The Dr. Seuss Experience.”
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

One treat making its debut in Chicago is a perception artwork by renowned artist Michael Murphy, who created 85 laser-cut acrylic pieces — all items from Seuss books — that hang from the ceiling. When one steps back a few feet and looks at them all, they spell out “Dr. Seuss.” being part of the Seuss exhibit was very exciting — especially because it will be seen by children.

“Kids are my favorite audience; they’re super honest,” said Murphy, who lives in Brooklyn but graduated from and taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Artist Michael Murphy sits in the midst of his 85-piece artwork at “The Dr. Seuss Experience.”
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

“I grew up reading his books and went back to them when I got this job. I realized he’s saying the same thing that I’m saying now — things about creativity and thinking about the world differently — and it really makes me wonder how much of an impression he had on me subconsciously.”

Tickets for “The Dr. Seuss Experience” start at $26 (including surcharges) for general admission.. Crowd size is capped at 200 per hour, and once inside patrons can stay for as long as they want. Masks must be worn by anyone over the age of 2.

After Chicago, the exhibit will move on to a yet-to-be-announced city and will travel until 2024.