Legend has it that the story of Dick Whittington and his Cat was inspired by the real Richard Whittington, who served as Lord Mayor of London, a sheriff of London and Member of Parliament in the 14th and early 15th century. Jeff Church’s adaptation, staged by Seattle Children's Theatre through Dec. 21, is an inspirational rag-to-riches adventure that takes its audience along on Whittington's quest to find his cat, Trueheart.
Dick Whittington (Mike Spee), a young orphan boy, reaches London in search of the proverbial street paved in gold. Our naïve protagonist does not realize that he is being duped by a few hoodwinks who are only interested in getting him to pull their cart, so they can freeload from him. Once in London, they abandon the boy and the lost Whittington finds a master in Mr. Fitzwarren (John Patick Lowrie), a wealthy merchant, much to the chagrin of Miss MacGrundy (Jayne Muirhead), the chaperon of Fitzwarren's daughter Alice (Fawn Ledesma).
As Dick navigates his way through London, using the confusing directions of Mr Fitzwarren’s butler (who wants Whittington out of the house), he meets a stranger who offers his lucky cat for a few coins. The cat indeed turns out to be lucky for Dick, getting rid of all the rats in the attic, where he is forced to sleep by Miss MacGrundy. So he names it Trueheart. Miss MacGrundy tries to get rid of the cat and hatches a conniving scheme. The rest of the play follows Whittington’s comic adventures in getting his cat back, including a stint on a pirate ship.
Kids will appreciate the themes of attachment and loyalty brought out by Whittington's quest, including the lengths he goes to rescue it. The actors bring a lot of energy and personality to the show, encouraging us to sing with them, feel sad at their losses or laugh at their silliness or idiosyncrasies. The original music score by Richard Gray blends in with the mood of the play, featuring fun and catchy numbers. The concluding song that leads to the climax is especially enjoyable.
The costumes and sets give a real 18th-century London city look and feel to the production. Particularly impressive is the engineering and design techniques used in maneuvering the props — the buildings, the ship, the dinghy. In fact, most of the questions asked by the audience at the end of the show revolved around the amazing set and prop design. Even the cat puppet that represents Trueheart is life-like and adorable.
“I wish there were a real cat.”
“Eeewww… so many rats!”
Should you take your kid?
Although the play is recommended for all ages (and there's nothing inappropriate in it), two caveats: The scene transitions are so creative that they can be confusing for kids new to theater or under the age of 7. My 5-year-old needed some explanation at various scene changes, such as when young Whittington suddenly came back towards the climax of the show as an old Mayor.
Also, there’s also lot of backstory within the play – such as why Alice lost her voice or why Bloody Bess the pirate kidnapped Trueheart — that make the plot complex for the littlest viewers. It may be a good idea to explain the story in advance, if planning on bringing small ones.
The Active Audience Guide is a great resource with a lot of activities to get the kids curious about the show. The synopsis can also help explain some complexities ahead of time.
• The running time for the play 1 hour and 45 minutes, and it includes a 15-minute break. Preorder your snacks so you can collect them at intermission and avoid long lines.
• If possible, use restrooms before the show starts, to avoid the rush at break time.
• The Charlotte Martin Theatre has a quiet room, in case you need to use it for your child.
• There are booster seats available for young viewers.
• The actors return after the play for a quick round of Q&A from the audience. Encourage your children to ask away any burning questions. The actors also stay on later, to give their autographs.
If you go ...
Where and when: Charlotte Martin Theatre at Seattle Center, through Dec. 21.
Tickets: Thursday shows, $20; Friday shows, $25; weekend shows, adult $36, child $29. Buy online.
Parking: There’s plenty of paid street and public parking available, although you may find it difficult to find parking close to the theatre.