Photo by Dan Norman.
Marvelous, simply marvelous. These are not just my words, they are also the words uttered by my five-year-old granddaughter when she saw Dr. Seuss’ The Sneetches: The Musical, which had its world premiere performance this weekend at the Children’s Theatre Company. The musical is based on the Dr. Seuss’ book The Sneetches and Other Stories, which is still widely popular with educators and the very young. Philip Dawkins wrote the play’s book and lyrics and David Mallamud composed the score for this new musical. Director Peter C. Brosius and music director Jason Hansen have created an enchanting world of sneetches that is very close to Dr. Seuss’ original book illustrations.
The story deals with the unfortunate and always timely topic of prejudice and discrimination. Although the fat belly, bird-like creatures known as sneetches look similar, they have divided their society into the haves and have-nots. Sneetches with stars on their belly are the favored elite class who spend their days in leisure on the beach. The plain belly sneetches are the workers who labor to produce the star bellies’ recreational toys.
All the sneetches share a beach with a line dividing the two groups so the star bellies do not have to interact with the plain bellies. When a plain belly accidentally almost steps over the line, the Mayor of the star bellies announces that it is necessary to widen the line and that the plain belly sneetches will help pay the cost (sound familiar?).
- Read about beach segregation in the United States.
One sneetch from each group makes contact and become friends. Standlee (Natalie Tran) is a star belly young female sneetch who is unable to make friends. Diggitch (Reed Sigmund) is a plain belly older male sneetch who is very bitter about his oppressed station in life and is also friendless. Standlee, not understanding the social taboo of associating with Diggitch, pesters him until he becomes her friend. When their friendship becomes known, the other plain bellies banish Diggitch because they fear repercussions from the star bellies.
Demoralized, Diggitch seeks out a solution which arrives in the form of Sylvester McMonkey McBean (Bradley Greenwald) and his star-making machine. For a price, McBean’s machine will transform the plain bellies into star bellies. All plain bellies readily pay to join the elite class. This causes horror among the original star bellies, who believe they need to distinguish themselves from the rabble. After all, if they are all in the elite class, who would do the work? McBean’s solution is to charge the star bellies to transform them into plain bellies. Chaos ensues as the two groups go back and forth changing their bellies. Ultimately (spoiler alert), they become a very mixed up group of star and plain bellies and all have run out of money to make belly changes. They make the choice to accept each other and work together in harmony.
As a work of theatre, this show is an example of what happens when everything is done right. The acting is first rate. Tran and Sigmund successfully portray vastly different characters that succeed in forming a believable bond. Greenwald is a scene stealer as he fleeces the sneetches. The others performers create a great ensemble including notable performances by Dean Holt as the Beachwatcher, Kim Kivens as Mrs. Upplee and Ryan Colbert as Stelvin.
Dawkins and Mallamud’s songs are upbeat catchy little tunes, even if a couple songs are too long. Scenic designer William Boles succeeds in creating a sneetch like world that is bright, colorful and beautiful, except for the oppressive factory. The star making /star removing machine is extremely imaginative and takes center stage for much of the second half of the show. Alex Jaeger’s costumes have just the right touches to portray sneetches as characters that match Dr. Seuss’s illustrations without drowning the actors with feathers. Finally, conductor Jason Hansen and his orchestra provide music that seamlessly flows through the show.
Sneetches succeeds as great entertainment that captures the attention of both the very young and adults. As noted earlier, it is simply marvelous.
Dr. Seuss’s The Sneetches: The Musical plays through Mar. 26.