BWW Review: Lyric's THE CAT IN THE HAT is Engaging, Screen Free Entertainment for Kids
These days, there's only one place you can go and not be inundated with screens in your face. Every other public place, even churches and doctor's offices now, require a screen to do business. Go to a restaurant and you'll see kids at tables with tablets and phones in their hands. Parents are just trying to keep them quiet and still while they wait for food, and the easiest way to do that is to present them with a mind-numbing video. The theatre is the one place, the last bastion of hope, for a screen-free experience. Live theatre engages the senses and lets audiences experience the one thing we're desperately missing - connection.
Lyric's Theatre for Young Audiences series is an emotional reminder of how important live theatre is for children. As soon as the doors for Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat are open, the children and parents entering are immersed in a full-body experience. The smells of theatrical smoke are crisp and inviting. The blues, reds and purples of the storybook, picture perfect set have kids marveling. Already they're engaged in a way they can't be anywhere else. The phones go back in purses and backpacks, tablets are stowed and the show begins.
Lyric Theatre, in collaboration with D.C.'s Adventure Theatre MTC, has spared no detail for this production. This is professional theatre through and through, and Lyric simply does not cut corners, ever. If anything, they go above and beyond to produce engaging theatre for young audiences. We all know what's at stake here. Introducing young children to theatre creates the next generation of artists and patrons. What's being built is not just an hour of entertainment, although it is wonderfully entertaining for kids and adults alike. What's really emerging is the next generation of artists and patrons who will carry a lifelong love for the arts. Many in attendance will keep this first theatrical experience with them in memory. You can't get that from any electronic device.
The Cat in the Hat is true to the whimsical, whirling world of Dr. Seuss. Narrated by NPR's Ari Shapiro, the play essentially is the book, leaping off the page and onto the stage.
Josiah Brooks makes his Lyric Theatre debut as The Cat in the Hat, and he gives a boisterous performance. Eli Bradley is Boy and Kalyn Glover is Sally. Boy and Sally are waiting for a rainy day to go by. Stuck at home without their mother, they are bored and miserable. In steps The Cat, with his antics and tricks, to enliven and brighten up the drab day.
Lexi Windsor is the Fish, the voice of reason for the children. Fish is concerned their Mother will return and they'll all be in trouble! Katelyn Curtin and Jonah White are Things 1 and 2, and together with Cat, they create quite a ruckus indeed!
The physical demands of the actors are twofold. First, they must jump and dance, skip and sing, and cover the full stage several times. In addition to that, everyone but the Cat wields puppets. The puppets are masterful, beautiful creations by Dre Moore. Everyone does a brilliant job with this tricky aspect. I find myself watching the actors more than their charges, but patrons can watch either one and still have the same experience. The actors use the puppets as extensions of themselves. They mirror the expressions and reactions that the little puppets make. Danielle Preston's costume design puts the actors in the same cloud-like aqua as the set, helping them blend in a little and the puppets stand out a bit.
Adam Immerwahr directs and choreographs, with Associate Direction by Matthew Sipress and Assistant Direction by John Sygar. This team creates a seamless, flowing show that truly upholds the poetry that is Dr. Seuss.
After the show, Windsor leads a talkback with the young audience, letting patrons ask questions. This is perhaps the most emotional moment of the whole performance. The cast fields questions about the costumes, the set, even the lighting design. The audience gets a tutorial about stage management, rehearsal, and how to make puppets. The young audience members are learning so much, and they're interested. Children are astute, and when you give them a chance, they're very engaged. And they're listening intently to the answers from the cast. This moment reminds me of the magic of theatre. It's clear once again that bringing live theatre and children together is the perfect combination. Theatre is truly for everyone. Leave the devices at home for this one. You, and your kids, certainly won't miss them.
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Lyric Theatre's The Cat in the Hat runs at their Plaza location until February 9th, 2020. For tickets, visit lyrictheatreokc.com or call the box office at 405-524-9312.