Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Gospel According to Seuss

It was SO MUCH FUN working on Seussical last week! I got to watch it over and over because after makeup is done--and everyone is in the opening number, so it has to be done before the show begins--then the makeup committee has nothing to do. Usually there are characters who have makeup changes during the show, but not this time.

So I got to go watch nearly every time (making notes of who needed powdering at intermission and who needed more help keeping their hair out of their face, to justify my presence). And it has been such a delight to watch this production. It is so solid. Every lead is well-cast and well-sung, the ensembles look and sound so good, our Cat in the Hat is a great improviser, as the role demands, and the music is so energetic and catchy--you can't get it out of your head, and you don't want to!

But I was also struck by what a great show Seussical is! It's the best kind of musical theater, where the musical numbers are not just tacked on to a plotline, but they advance and develop the plot in an integral way. It's a nice mix of big whole cast numbers--quite a few of them--and smaller ensemble numbers; there are only a couple of scenes with less than 15-18 performers on stage. I think that's why it's got a reputation in our theater company for being the most fun show to be in! There are so many good parts and great numbers.

I was also amazed at the Christian themes and values that it puts forth. I have already mentioned the pro-life refrain of Horton as he protects the tiny Whos, "A person's a person, no matter how small." Despite what his pro-choice widow thinks, it's hard to imagine that the message-minded Seuss didn't realize what conclusion would be drawn. His anti-war message is also present in a subplot, and there is a nod to his environmental position as well.

But an overarching theme of Seussical is self-sacrifice. For example, Mayzie LaBird--who is really too irresponsible and self-centered to be a mother--cajoles Horton into sitting on her nest for an afternoon's vacation, which turns into a long, cold year of egg-sitting for Horton. The whole time, he's terribly anxious to find the Whos, whose clover has been dropped in a field of clovers 100 miles wide; "but I said what I said and I meant what I meant--an elephant's faithful one hundred percent." Horton is captured and shipped from the jungle to a New York circus--as the amazing egg-sitting elephant--but he is faithful to protect the egg, no matter the cost to himself.

Eventually Mayzie, visiting the circus, encounters him again--and then gives him the egg. "Good luck when it hatches...and goodbye," she sings--a study in conflicting emotions. With the pro-life context in mind, this moment hit me as making a case for adoption; and in the scene where the egg hatches, there is a clear statement of the need for both a father and a mother for the little elephant-bird.

Gertrude McFuzz demonstrates her love for Horton by sacrifice: she tells him--very dramatically--how she braved the elements and many geographical obstacles to follow him to New York, and then, in one of the most touching moments in the show, she sings sweetly of her most incredible sacrifice of all: "Oh yes, and Horton? It took me seven weeks, but I found your clover, too."

Finally, a friend in seminary pointed out Christian symbolism in the play that--while probably unintentional?--is powerful. In the climactic scene, Horton--in a kangaroo court--has been declared insane for believing there are persons on the dust speck (the planet of Who) on the clover, and the dust speck has been sentenced to be boiled in Beezlenut oil. The jungle animals sing, "Boil it, boil it, boil it" while the Whos (on the dust speck) shout "We are here, we are here, we are here!" (The tension that builds in this whole-cast number to this moment of crisis is really something!) But their salvation is accomplished when the Son of the mayor of Whoville shouts a new Word, a Word that has never been heard before--and everyone in the jungle hears it--and believes.

There you have it--the gospel according to Seuss! And the once-upon-a-time lit major in me has been given her head in this post--sorry! But you have to understand--I've had hours in a dark theater to think about it.

1 comment:

Islandsparrow said...

You've inspired me Jeanne! I'm going to re-read this book with those themes in mind. Thanks from another lit major *grin*