We are very lucky in Portland to have a strong cultural base, including a number of children’s theatre companies. Yesterday I had the pleasure of accompanying my son to a performance of Seussical at the Northwest Children’s Theater*. It was enormous fun, with a splendid cast making the characters of Dr Seuss’ stories come to life.
This is the second time I have been to this theatre. We went to a production based on Richard Scarry’s books about Busytown last year. That was also an enjoyable show, but it was less engaging than Seussical.
Comparing children’s authors and the worlds they create is a faintly ridiculous endeavour. It’s like James Bond or Doctor Who or Star Trek: the one you grew up with is usually your favourite**. I’m of an age to have been exposed to both Scarry’s and Seuss’ work when I was in the target audience, but I actually only encountered Dr Seuss when I was a child. Hence when I say that I prefer Dr Seuss, that may be a function of my childhood experiences at least as much as any rational assessment.
Having said that… I much prefer the work of Dr Seuss to that of Richard Scarry. They are quite different – Scarry’s drawings are pleasing, and the silliness is amusing on first reading, but Dr Seuss has characters we learn about through the stories and stories that stick with you. Just because of story and character Dr Seuss’ books stand up to repeated readings a lot better than Richard Scarry’s, and Dr Seuss has the playful use of language on top of that as well.
The theatrical productions reflect the source material as you would expect, and so the Busytown story took Richard Scarry’s characters and needed a novel story to weave them into a narrative, whereas Suessical took one of Dr Seuss’ stories and added other elements to it. The origins of these two musicals is different: Seussical started as a Broadway production, whereas the Busytown one had its premier with the NWCT run last year, but still – as a storyteller myself, it seemed pretty clear that the narrative of Seussical was a lot easier to synthesise from the original work than for Busytown.
But the NWCT is terrific, and if you have an opportunity to take a child along to one of their productions, I would highly recommend it.
[*] I’m British so I spell theatre with the ‘e’ at the end, and that is quite a common spelling in the US when discussing live acting performances. The NWCT spells the word with the ‘r’ at the end, hence the mismatch of spellings in this paragraph.
[**] although not always. By this rule of thumb I ought to like Roger Moore a lot more than I do, but I much prefer Sean Connery’s films. Of course, Daniel Craig is better than both of them.