Saturday, February 18, 2017

Dr. Seuss's The Sneetches: The Musical Will Open Your Eyes

The Sneetches: The Musical is the perfect way to talk to your kids about current events.


Photo by Dan Norman.

If you think all of the problems we're facing as a country are somehow new to us, think again. Xenophobia, bullying, sectionalism, racism and other divisive philosophies and actions have existed for thousands of years. That does not mean, however, that we are doomed to suffer from them for time immemorial. All it takes is a few people to do the right thing and steadfastly stand up for equality to teach us the errors of our ways and begin to lead us to a better, fairer future.

Photo by Dan Norman.

There is no better way of understanding these problems (and their solutions) than the visionary world of Dr. Seuss (known in real life as Theodore Geisel). Dr. Seuss came of age during both world wars, which tremendously impacted his life and work. After beginning his career as a political cartoonist and advertising illustrator, he transitioned into film and then published children's books that featured gloriously unique illustrations and clever word rhymes. These books have become international best sellers and introduced millions of children worldwide into learning to read in English. Some are simply silly (Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Box) and some are more serious or educational; The Lorax, Oh The Places You'll Go!, Yertle the Turtle and How the Grinch Stole Christmas are all tales of morality disguised in the fantastical rhymes and illustrations of Dr. Seuss.



The Sneetches falls right into the latter category, describing what happens when we allow cosmetic differences to separate us from others. On Sneetch Beach there are star-bellied Sneetches and plain-bellied Sneetches. The star-bellies have set up a system in which they benefit from the labor of the plain-bellies. Sneetch Beach is vigorously segregated and things only continue to get worse for the plain-bellies, until one little star-belly named Standlee changes everything.

Photo by Dan Norman.
Standlee has trouble socializing with her fellow star-bellies, so she seeks friendship among the plain-bellies with Diggitch, another isolated fellow. Although their friendship is expressly forbidden, the two hit it off and play anyway. They are eventually found out and an uproar ensues, causing Diggitch to be banished. After leaving Sneetch Beach Diggitch encounters Sylvester McMonkey McBean, a seemingly friendly capitalist who offers a solution to their problem: for a small fee, he can simply give all of the plain-bellies a star, and everyone will be on the same playing field once more.

Photo by Dan Norman.

The introduction of McBean's solution creates chaos for the Sneetches. Without their innate cosmetic differences, the former star-bellied Sneetches begin a rush to re-divide themselves by removing their stars, but it only makes things worse. The former plain-bellies are determined to be the same, and continue to change themselves to follow the former star-bellies. By the time all of the Sneetches run out of money for McBean's machine, the former star-bellies and plain-bellies are completely mixed up. McBean's departure forces the Sneetches to learn to love each other (and importantly, themselves) despite their differences; after all, star does not dictate how fun or nice someone is, or the value you hold within yourself. Through the reconciliation process the Sneetches learn about forgiveness, honesty and apology to help heal the divides they had created for themselves, and they leave us in a far more integrated, fairer and happier state than before.

Photo by Dan Norman.

The cast is exuberant and brings a lot of life to this story. Natalie Tran is wonderfully expressive as Standlee, with spot-on pitch and a bright demeanor that perfectly bridge the Sneetch divide. Reed Sigmund is cuddly as Standlee's friend Diggitch, blustering his way through the score. Bradley Greenwald inhabits Sylvester McMonkey McBean, cloaking McBean's sinister greed in a candy coated smile and powerhouse pipes. Ryan Colbert was hilarious as Stelvin and recruited the audience to understand the plight of the plain-bellies. With exuberant dancing and expressive faces, the ensemble really engaged the kids in the audience, who clearly understood the story and got quite invested towards the end.

Photo by Dan Norman.

One of the most delightful elements of Dr. Seuss's work is his wonderful illustrations, which are well-represented in this production. The set is filled with vibrant colors and textures that help to lighten the heft of the story. Costume Designer Alex Jaeger did a great job of modifying the actors just enough to make them look animated without removing their ability to move and be expressive, and Scenic Designer William Boles creates lots of fun vignettes and machines for the Sneetches to play with.

Photo by Dan Norman.

The lessons in this parable cover the gamut (racism, bullying, classism, politics, depression, self-acceptance), making it a perfect way to gently teach kids how to navigate tough situations. Alternatively, this is a great, hands-on way to explain some of the political situations facing America today (think Build the Wall, Black Lives Matter, etc.) in a way that kids can really engage with. The Children's Theatre Company includes a marvelous page about discussing and understanding privilege in the children's portion of the program that is an incredible guide to walking kids through that concept and standing up for others.


The Sneetches: The Musical is a gift offered at the perfect time, helping us navigate difficult issues with a smile. Don't shy away from honest conversations with your kids (or the grownups in your life). If you're wondering how to do so, just follow Dr. Seuss's lead: put out your hand, shake into a dance, and smile with each other. That will go a long way to bridging all the lines we draw in our own sand beaches, and we need that positive attitude more than ever. The Sneetches is a lovely way to brighten your family's end of winter; make sure to go see it before it closes on March 26. You can find more information or buy tickets by clicking on this link.