Reviewed by Shelly L. Hoffman
What’s better than a theatre full of children thoroughly enjoying themselves? Surely, it’s a theatre full of bubbles AND children enjoying themselves. Bubbles are just one of the many treats director Samuel J. Richardson has cooked up for audiences of Flint Youth Theatre’s Cat in the Hat. This almost timeless Dr. Seuss classic, adapted by Katie Mitchell, kicks off FYT’s “SummerStage” series, part of the organization’s new end-of-summer theatre festival, which also includes Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (opening Friday night). While not quite repertory (different actors are used in each show), the two productions are staged at the same time and the young people who appear in one will serve as crew for the other.
The Cat in the Hat is, essentially, five minutes of story and forty minutes of wildly entertaining antics that include magic tricks, dancing, beach ball bouncing, and much, much more. The children in Thursday’s opening matinee audience were actually squealing with delight at all they saw and experienced. And, admittedly, the adults were pretty entertained as well.
Students Enrique Vargas and Kate Spademan are featured in this production as Boy and Sally, respectively, the youngsters who are left home alone and yearn to play outside on a cold and rainy day. Each brings to the stage the full sense of bored siblings as they adorably primp and preen and fight with each other while stuck indoors. Today’s youngsters might have difficulty understanding why Boy & Sally don’t just play video games, but it’s 1957 (the year Cat was published), and the outdoors is where it’s at.
They are left under the watchful eye of Fish. Here, Bary Lehr serves as the voice and puppet master while acting alongside the puppet fish. Lehr’s portrayal is both droll and anxiety-ridden as the Fish tries to warn Boy and Sally of the dangers of their unexpected visitor.
That visitor is, of course, the titular character, Cat. Not content to wreak havoc on his own, the Cat is accompanied by eight Kittens (all FYT students), who each exhibit very cat-like qualities, and help to destroy the parent-free home. Bret Beaudry is a whirlwind of activity as the Cat, displaying great physical prowess and thoroughly capturing the attention of the little ones. His delivery of lines, at times, though, seems slow and, when sandwiched between all the commotion, a little disjointed. Still, his Cat is a commanding presence.
There is so much to this show which, at first blush, might seem insurmountable. From Cat balancing himself on a ball while holding all manner of thing, to Fish having a dream, to the arrival of Thing 1 and Thing 2, it is all very cleverly staged. Gene Oliver’s adaptable scenic design incorporates Dr. Seuss’ enchanting illustrations (complete with a sneezing bird) and ably reveals the damage Cat imposes on the house. The set is complemented by Adam M. Dill’s costume design, which helps to bring to life each character. The props, too, including a wonderful cleaning machine, add to the on-stage frolics.
As can be expected at Flint Youth Theatre, the lighting and sound cues are nearly flawless. One wonders, though, about the seemingly needless, inconsistent, and terribly distracting sound amplification. It is not clear why some actors are microphoned and others are not. It is clear, though, that one or more of the microphones on Thursday created severe static throughout almost the entire production, and actually served to obscure the sound rather than make it clearer.
Technical issues aside, Cat in the Hat is incredibly interactive and magically holds the attention of both young and not-so-young theatre-goers. It will delight the kids and transport many an adult back to childhood.
Cat in the Hat, recommended for ages 3 and up, is being staged at Bower Theatre. Additional performances are Saturday, August 15 and Friday, August 21 at 7:00 pm. Matinee performances will be held at 2:00 pm on Sunday, August 16, Wednesday, August 19, and Saturday, August 22. Tickets range in price from $12 – $16 in advance and $14 – $18 day-of-show, and can be purchased in-person or by visiting http://tickets.thewhiting.com/single/PSDetail.aspx?psn=6408.