Published in KPBS On Air Magazine November 2002


He meant what he said

And he said what he meant…

So his readers are faithful, 100%.

Silly characters, goofy shapes, wacky rhymes and Crayola colors. But there was method to his madness. And he changed children’s books and children’s lives forever.

Theodor Geisel (AKA Dr. Seuss) once explained his wildly popular work this way: “I like nonsense,” he said. “It wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living; it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is exactly what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.”

Kids of all ages have been laughing at life through Geisel’s wacky telescope since 1936, when at age 32, he wrote his first children’s book (“And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street”). His loopy, fanciful characters have become our literary reference and lifelong pals. Yet he once said, “If my characters threw a dinner party, I would not show up.” But would the long-time San Diego resident visit two local theaters to see them singing onstage? I bet he would.

Seems like we’re having a Seussfest. First, at the Globe Theatres, there’s the 5th anniversary production of our homegrown musical, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, an imaginative, entertaining re-creation of the beloved book.

And at the Civic Theatre, we get the regional premiere of the national tour of Seussical: The Musical, starring gymnast/actor/singer/producer Cathy Rigby.

Rigby and Audrey Geisel (Mrs. Dr. Seuss, still a La Jolla resident) made a joint appearance to celebrate the double-whammy of Seussian proportion. As the Cat in the Hat (a role she also played on Broadway), Rigby is the impish emcee of Seussical.

She confessed that the feline’s phrases were “really tough to learn.” Mrs. Geisel knew just what she meant: “When we’d have a dinner party,” she recalled, “people began reading [Ted’s books] and stumbling all over the words. It began to be a sobriety test. You couldn’t drive home if you couldn’t say the words.”

Now, lots of people are saying — and singing — the words. What would Dr. Seuss himself say of all this? “I think he might say,” says his widow of ten years, “as indeed he did say, ‘I have had all the fun and fulfillment of creating. Now you will have to deal with everything I created.'”

And kids are doing just that. To watch them watch as the glorious set and costumes of the Globe’s Grinch make the book spring to life is to witness the magic of Seuss mingled with the magic of theater. Broadway veteran Guy Paul reprises the role he originated in 1997 — the Green Meanie (aka Grinch) who proves that Christmas “doesn’t come from a store.” But, as director Jack O’Brien has asserted, the story is “not just about Christmas. It’s pan-religious. Values in general are threatened these days. And there’s another classic idea here, too. Someone can come and try to take away what they think you love, and find what you really loved was what they couldn’t see.”

Things we care about abound in Seussical, where we reconnect with our old pals Horton the Elephant and Mayzie LaBird, Gertrude McFuzz, the Cat in the Hat and even the Grinch and the Whos. It takes all of them, together for the first time, to calm the chaos erupting in the Jungle of Nool.

In the upbeat, simple score by Stephen Flaherty, with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens (co-creators of the heartrending Ragtime), messages are delivered about loyalty, perseverance and individuality (Remember, “a person’s a person no matter how small”).

As the hat-wearing Cat, Rigby has been praised for her “infectious joie de vivre.” She sees the Cat as “a little bit like Jiminy Cricket. He guides people to keep their values and keep things in perspective. In this way, he’s much more together than Peter Pan” (another character she’s played to acclaim on Broadway and national tour).

The still-adorable, diminutive star relates more to Peter, though. “Growing up as a gymnast with no childhood” (she was a young, two-time Olympics winner), “that story is near and dear to my heart. Through him, I got to go back and relive my childhood onstage; it was great therapy for me.”

“The Cat in the Hat,” she continues, “is also full of confidence and full of himself. He’s full of mischief, but he always knows things will work out. He believes you have to trust your instincts and your imagination. To see these characters come alive onstage is so magical for me and so special for children. My 4 year-old grandchild goes up to people and says, ‘My Nana is Peter Pan and the Cat in the Hat!'”

In both these musicals, it takes a little child (JoJo in Seussical, Cindy Lou Who in The Grinch) to touch the heart and rekindle the imagination of adults.

Clearly, this is a visit to the Doctor everyone will enjoy.

©2002 Patté Productions Inc.