Theater Review: Seattle Children's Theatre's "The Cat in the Hat"

cat-939x2002I’m going to give some radical advice to parents planning to take their kids to see the Seattle Children’s Theatre’s production of The Cat in the Hat:

Don’t take out your well-loved copy of the book and read it first.

I know, it’s tempting! But if possible, resist. Don’t worry, your kids will love the show either way, so if you can’t keep your big, white gloves off the story ahead of time don’t feel too badly.

But waiting until after you see the play to read the book (or more likely, read it yet again) means that instead of mouthing along every word from memory and anticipating each next scene, it will all come as a little bit more of a surprise. Which is, well, fun — and, to blatantly quote, "it is fun to have fun"!

Because the script stays true to the book, my family had something of a journey of discovery when we saw the production after not having read the book for a year or so. Do Thing One and Thing Two mess with the pink ink in this book, or is that the sequel? Does the mother ever show her face? (My youngest daughter, 5, waited anxiously throughout the play hoping to catch a glimpse of this mysterious, missing mommy — I won’t tell you if she did. And for more about the MIA mother check out this amusing article).

If you’ve recently read "The Cat in the Hat," and especially if it’s on frequent rotation in your home library, you might not experience quite as much suspense.

What you will get with the fun, clean-line props (built in SCT’s prop and costume shops from designs that came from the National Theatre of Great Britain, where this script originates) is an almost exact three-dimensional replica of the beloved book’s illustrations. You and your little Seussites will happily recognize it all (except maybe for those scribbly looking lines on the actors’ costumes, which it turns out, were painted to match the lines in the book’s drawings).

There are lots of clever iterations and giggle-inducing stuff, including the fun balancing scene (cup and saucer, umbrella, fish!), smart solutions for the tension-building toppling antics of the Cat, and the simple but clever casting approach to Fish.

But the bonus of watching the story played out on stage is what you see there that you cannot get definitively from Theodor Seuss Geisel’s book — the answer (one answer, anyway) to the question: What personalities do these characters have, anyway?

As a child having the book read to me, and as an adult reading it to my own kids, I always envisioned the Cat in the Hat in a certain way — with a certain voice, a certain attitude, a certain swagger and deviousness. It was surprising, and fun, to see a slightly different interpretation of what I’ve been imagining all along (I won’t say much more about what that interpretation is so you can have your own moment of discovery or maybe confirmation of what you’ve pictured over the years).

Chad Kelderman is perfectly cast as the Cat, bringing a sly-yet-somehow-vulnerable edge to the part which will immediate win over the youngest kiddos and creates enough interest even for suspect tweens (the show is recommended for all ages). Allen Galli nearly steals the show as Fish, and Sally, Boy, and the two Things (all played by adult actors) are also well-cast.

If your family likes, or loves, Dr. Seuss, this production is absolutely worth seeing. It will bring the classic story to life and broaden your appreciation for the lasting genius of Seuss (he wrote "The Cat in the Hat" after a friend challenged him to craft a story that first-graders couldn’t put down. In the book, released in 1957, he used 223 words from a list of 348 words that it was thought every 6-year-old should know).

You can even use the production to initiate a conversation later with your kids about peer pressure, making good choices (would you tell?!, and, of course, the importance of clean-up time.

If you go . . .

When: The Cat in the Hat runs through Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012. Thursday-Friday shows at 7 p.m.; Saturdays 2 and 5:30 p.m.; Sundays 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.

Where: Seattle Children’s Theatre at the Seattle Center

Tickets and information:

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