TR Robertson…The 1971 children’s book, The Lorax by Dr. Seuss, is now a musical and on stage at The Old Globe Theatre’s Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage in its U.S. Premiere after a critically acclaimed opening at The Old Vic in London. This simple book, with a simple story, has beneath it a story of concerns that are still as prevalent today as they were when Dr. Seuss created the story over 45+ years ago. Dr. Seuss once said The Lorax was the favorite of all the books he wrote and was especially glad he had the chance to put in a children’s book form the story of increasing economic greed and the devastation of our environment. The musical form of the book does not disappoint and children and adults of all ages should leave the theatre not only entertained, but with a deeper concern about what is going on around us. The book was actually banned for a period in Laytonville, California, home of a logging industry.
Photos by Dan Norman
The musical is adapted for stage by David Greig with music and lyrics by Charlie Fink. Greig is an award winning playwright and the Artistic Director of the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company in Edinburgh, Scotland. Fink was front man and songwriter for the band Noah and the Whale, which has performed around the world. The Old Globe director is Max Webster and the musical was choreographed by Drew McOnie. Webster is an Associate Director at The Old Vic and McOnie is an Associate Artist at The Old Vic.
At its simplest, “The Lorax” is about the Once-ler Family, in particular The Once-ler, who in the process of searching for his place in the world develops something called “Sneeds”. To make the Sneeds, he used the tops of the Truffula trees, which he stumbles upon as he is wandering in a forested area. Along the way he meets The Lorax, a creature that guards the Truffula trees. He makes an agreement to only use a small portion of the forest to harvest the trees. As The Once-ler begins to make more money, he brings in people to work for him, including the Once-ler family that had sent him on his way earlier. As greed will do, The Once-ler begins to lie, cheat, break promises, break contracts, manipulate, pollute the environment, cover-up his deeds and destroy everything around him, especially the forest and the animals that live there. As The Lorax begins to understand what is going on, he is forced to take drastic action, including a take- over of The Once-ler’s factory and bringing in Inspectors show what has been going on. Without giving more away and as you try and figure out what Unless means, which is written on the stand appearing on the stage. The Once-ler will go through change himself as he deals with the consequences of his actions and a small ray of hope will surface at the end. Maybe Seuss had hope for us after all.
The musical is extremely colorful, wonderful costumed and filled with impressive sets designs. Scenic and Costume Designs were by Rob Howell and Lighting Designs by Jon Clark. Even though the musical runs close to 2 hours in length (including a 15 minute intermission) it has enough going on to keep children of all ages entertained, I’m thinking 5 or 6 year old and older. The Lorax is a masterfully manipulated puppet requiring 3 actors to put him through the various motions in the play, voiced by one of his “handlers”. Meghan Kreidler, Rick Miller and H. Adam Harris handle The Lorax with Harris as the voice of The Lorax.
The Once-ler is played by Steven Epp, a writer, actor, and director from Minneapolis and Co-Artistic Director of the Moving Company. Epp has imaginative facial expressions, is both funny, compassionate, and a bit scary depending on what is going on at the time. The audience gets a big laugh with his quick Trump impression in Act I of “Everything is fine, maybe it’s Fake News”. You’ll have to explain that one to the kids.
The tall, lanky Ryan Colbert is impressive as Small Ed and Storyteller. All of the accomplished actors and actresses sing and dance on stage throughout the musical. One outstanding performance is by Rajane Katurah, who plays Granny Once-ler and Von Goo. Katurah stands out with a powerful presentation of the song “Great Man”, along with Stephanie Bertumen as McGee and Lynnea Doublette as McGann.
Other creative team members of “The Lorax” include Finn Caldwell & Nick Barnes – Puppet Direction & Design, Elan McMahan – Music Direction, Tom Gibbons – Sound Design, Phil Bateman – Music Supervisor & Arranger, James Vasquez – Associate Director, Micki Weiner – Associate choreographer and Stacy McIntosh – Production Stage Manager.
This may be an audience comprised of 50% kids and young teens, but don’t let this Seuss designed story, now a musical, fool you. This is a tale everyone needs to hear again and again. It was a story Dr. Seuss told many, many years ago and the plight he speaks of continues today, so we must not be getting the message, and we need to get the message. Check out “The Lorax” and see if you get the message. The theatre program will even give you some hints about what you can do to help out.
“The Lorax” will be on stage at the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage, Old Globe Theatre, Conrad Prebys Theatre Center, until August 12th. Prices start at $40 for adults and $30 for kids and can be purchased at www.TheOldGlobe.org or call 619-234-5623.