courtesy Trudie Lee Photography

Dr. Seuss in a whole new light

Alberta Theatre Projects launches Seuss musical

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"You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose."

Some Calgarians are drawing from Seuss' sage wisdom, using the feet in their shoes and the brains in their heads to make their way down to Seussical, a musical based on Dr. Seuss' books, where they will hear from a litany of his famous characters.

"The version that we're doing is the Theatre for Young Audiences version, which means that the story's a little tighter," says Alberta Theatre Projects assistant dramaturg Amy Lynn Strilchuk.

The Theatre For Young Audiences version makes use of a smaller cast and has a more concise plot than the Broadway version so it is easier for children to follow.

"Kids appreciate the bubbliness of language but I think adults appreciate the mastery, just how good those rhymes are," says Strilchuk. "I think we make the assumption that because it's the TYA version, it's for kids, but it's actually for everyone because it's just a good time."

Theodore Seuss Geisel's Horton Hears a Who provides most of the plot. Characters from other books like How the Grinch Stole Christmas make cameos and the lyrics reference other Seuss books as well. The script is entirely in Seussian rhyme.

"The story is definitely strong but there's so much opportunity for just unreal design," says Strilchuk. "Getting John Pennoyer as our set and costume designer -- it's just making the show unreal. We knew that if we did the show it was all out or nothing."

The set, lighting and costumes are bright and inventive, bringing Seuss' colourful characters and illustrations to life. There was a lot of flexibility to play around with costumes and set, says Strilchuk.

"We hope you wouldn't imagine it being an exact replica of the books," says Strilchuk. "When you take something like Disney's Beauty and the Beast, the show will look exactly like you know Beauty and the Beast to look like, but in Seussical the Musical, John is liberal with his aesthetic so it's not an exact replica of the illustrations in Seuss."

David Kelly was a host of CityTV's Breakfast Television before being offered the role of Cat in the Hat, who narrates the show.

"The two protagonists of the show are Horton the elephant and JoJo the little boy, but so much of the story is woven together by the cat popping in and out because the cat himself is a bit of a trickster," says Strilchuk. "When you think of charismatic, slightly mischievous hosts in Calgary, yeah we knew right away we needed to ask Dave."

Kelly was an actor before he became the host of Breakfast Television. He started out with a role in Toronto, singing and tap dancing in a production of Crazy for You and eventually made his way to Edmonton where he got a role in Hank Williams: The Show He Never Gave. After the show was relocated to Calgary, he was offered a new opportunity as a breakfast television host in 1996.

"A lot of it is his ease with people and his desire to connect with people that make the best narrator you could hope for," says Strilchuk. "He really cares to get to know who he's working with and it's not put on. He's so sincere and engaging."