BWW Review: First Act Soars, Second Act Bores in THE LORAX at Mirvish
"I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees!" screams the puppet with three puppeteers on their knees. Unlike the show, I won't spend this in rhyme - and I promise to not take as much of your time. THE LORAX, presented by Mirvish is vivaciously visual. Dr. Seuss's fictional world becomes livable with colourful, captivating designs, folky tunes and unique, striking costumes that create a dreamy theatrical experience. In David Greig's stage version, adapted from the short children's book, most of the one-line story is covered by intermission, leaving the second act to grumble on and on through an already thin plot.
THE LORAX tells the tale of the ambitious inventor, the Once-ler (Simon Paisley Day). Misunderstood by his very large family, the Once-ler is forced out of his home to explore the world for a new invention. After exhausting every part of the world, the Once-ler settles in an animal-filled forest of beautiful Truffula trees. Discovering that the foliage of the Truffula can be knit into knittings, the Once-ler chops one down - calling the Lorax (David Ricardo-Pearce) to defend the voiceless tree. When a villager buys one of his knitted "thneeds", the Once-ler invites his whole family to chop down trees, knit thneeds and get rich in the process. Eventually, greed gets the best of him. The more money is made, the more trees are chopped - until the very last colourful Truffula tree drops.
Pro-environmental themes are strong in this piece. There are several deeply affecting moments that stir strong feelings of guilt concerning our collective treatment and mentality towards the environment. In that respect, THE LORAX succeeds. The portrayal of smog entering the forest, disrupting a swan's dance, hushed the theatre to a chilling silence - and when the lights came up for intermission, the energy was a similar muted, quiet reflection. Here again, THE LORAX succeeds. The timing of this show, in a post-Paris Agreement world, with the administration of our neighbour country below actively denying climate change. Here, the timing of THE LORAX succeeds.
Where THE LORAX doesn't necessarily succeed is in the structure of the show. Squeezing a two-hour musical out of a 45-page children's book is problematic without the creation of engaging, new material. The result, in this case, is a compelling first act that moves quickly through the story, and a second act that struggles to maintain the energy of the piece, extending the drama to fill time.
The music and lyrics, by Charlie Fink, is full of campy, cheery tunes fabulously sung by the talented ensemble - but full of melodies that are quick to leave your head. It certainly sounded nice, but it's not something I would listen to again.
The actors responsible for telling the story do it very well. The entire ensemble is full of confident singers, performing with cartoon-like energy. As the Once-ler, Simon Paisley Day is an exceptional storyteller, though I wish his singing was of the same calibre. Day's acting is very audience focused, at times ignoring scene partners to look into the eyes of people seated in the first few rows. Day's singing is somewhat Rex Harrison-like. It's not terrible, but you wouldn't leave the show raving about it.
David Ricardo-Pearce as the voice of the Lorax is where the real singing happens. A glorious, character baritone, Ricardo-Pearce has a warm, addicting timbre in speech and song. Also handling the Lorax puppet are Laura Caldow and Ben Thompson, whose faces wonderfully share the emotions of the Lorax with Ricardo-Pearce. Caldow works the arms and Thompson manages the Lorax's feet - the two of them spend the entire show either kneeling or crouched in unusual positions.
So you're wondering, is this where I should be spending my money? Is THE LORAX entertaining, provoking and funny? The answer is yes, to all of the above - although, maybe not a show that you'll doubtlessly love.
THE LORAX, a production by the Old Vic, Atkin/Tobias Round and Tulchin Bartner Productions, is presented by Mirvish and runs through January 21, 2018 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King Street W, Toronto ON
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit mirvish.com