The ensemble of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, now playing at the Children’s Theatre Company. Photo by Dan Norman.
“[U]nless someone likes you cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
These words sum up the essence of the Children’s Theatre Company’s current musical production of the Dr. Seuss’ book The Lorax. Playwright David Greig and composer Charlie Fink have done the unimaginable by taking the Seuss classic and make it even greater. Director Max Webster’s production weaves an enchanting tale that dazzles with catchy tunes, colorful scenery, and top talent.
Dr. Seuss originally published The Lorax in 1971 – just a year after the first celebration of Earth Day. In Seussical fashion, it provides a limerick look at what happens when corporate greed outweighs the good of the environment. The world, at that time, was just in the beginning stages of understanding the effects of pollution and taking actions to stop the destruction of native habitats. Now 47 years later, its message is even timelier due to shortsighted governments and corporations that not only ignore the message, but actively deny it.
The story starts with the Once-ler, a reclusive hermit who lives in the ruins of a town he created. One day, a child comes to him and wants to know his story. For 50 cents, the Once-ler obliges. His tale begins as a boy who is a dreamer and that fact gets him evicted from his parents’ house. He seeks to make himself a success and he travels to a new land forested with countless truffaula trees. He cuts down one of the trees and uses it to make a “thneeds,” a useless product that he predicts everyone will seek. When he does so, he is confronted and counseled by the titular Lorax – the protector of the trees who cannot speak for themselves. The Lorax admonishes Once-ler that he should not cut down the trees and that the forest will provide for all of his needs. Although Once-ler agrees with the Lorax, he soon changes his mind when he finds a customer for his “thneeds.” He proceeds to mow down more trees, setting up factories that pollute the water and harm the wildlife. As his business grows, so does both his greed and his ego – with a striking resemblance to a certain U.S. President. When the Lorax returns, he is heartbroken to see the trees gone and his wildlife friends homeless and dead. Despite the ruin to all, the musical leaves us with a whisper of hope for the next generation.
Steven Epp, as the Once-ler, provides a versatile and engaging performance who begins as an idealistic young man, transforms into a greedy factory owner, and later becomes a Howard Hughes-type recluse. The Lorax is portrayed by a puppet with three puppeteers: Meghan Kreider, Rick Miller, and H. Adam Harris (also the Lorax’s voice). The movement work of the Lorax is often hypnotic to watch, especially his fancy footwork. However, there are also times when the puppeteers almost crowd out the puppet and it is hard to see. The show boasts a large cast who seamlessly flow into and out of multiple roles, including the Once-ler’s family and the town folk, making sure the action never stops.
Rob Howell’s scenic and costume design completely succeeds in creating Dr. Seuss’s world on stage. The truffaula trees fascinate with how they flow up and shrink down, with colors abounding. Different costumes work very well to portray the Once-ler’s different statuses and help the ensemble shift between their varying roles. The swans’ costumes are breathtaking, making their death all that more real.
Fink’s music is varied, ranging from musical ditties and folk protest songs to hard rock industrial songs. My favorites include the folk protest song “We Are One,” as well as the more pop-rock tunes “I Could be a Great Man” and “When We Get Rich”. The tunes keep coming, with nary a slowdown in the action.
There are loud noises and flashy lights in one part that scared the wee audience members. But the show is just perfect for the five and older crowd, including the “much older crowd”. My grandchildren were enamored and actually thanked me for bringing them, while expressing disappointed there was no show DVD to bring home.
The Lorax plays through June 10 at the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis, MN.