Regional Reviews: San Diego
Also see Bill's review of Spamalot
So, Dr. Seuss's The Lorax, a musical version of the 1971 book as adapted for the stage by David Greig with music and lyrics by Charlie Fink, must have seemed like manna from heaven after it was originally produced by London's Old Vic. The Globe has partnered with the Children's Theatre Company, a Minneapolis theatrical institution, to recreate the show for American audiences. It's a lovely, albeit cautionary, tale, and it's told with style and precision.
If you're expecting something like "Grinch," however, you might want to wait until November. The Lorax is a very different beast.
Apparently Dr. Seuss' favorite, the Lorax is a creature who "speaks for the trees," in this case Truffula trees that can provide the raw material for a soft and sturdy clothing fabric. The Truffula are plentiful in the forest where the Lorax lives, but a man named The Once-ler (Steven Epp) gets the idea for creating the fabric, and bit by bit the trees are cut down to provide resources for The Once-ler's business and the city that grows up around it.
The Lorax warns that the disappearance of the trees means that the creatures who depend on them in various ways will need to go elsewhere. When the Lorax, too, leaves, a memorial with the word "UNLESS" on it marks the place where he last stood. It takes a while before The Once-ler figures out what the memorial means, and by that time disaster has overtaken him as well.
In addition to Mr. Epps, who is marvelous as The Once-ler, a band of storytellers spin the tale and bring the characters to life via puppetry (designed by Finn Caldwell and Nick Barnes and directed by Mr. Caldwell). They are musicians as well, some of them at least, and while the number of Mr. Fink's songs make me think more "play with music" than "musical theatre," the songs are helpful additions to the story, as well as being easy on the ears.
Three puppeteers are needed to bring the Lorax to life. H. Adam Harris operates the head and voices the character, while Meghan Kreidler and Rick Miller operate the body and the feet. The ensemble (Ansa Akyea, Christopher Becknell, Stephanie Bertumen, Brian Bose, Ryan Colbert, Lynnea Doublette, Johannah "Joh" Easley, Rajané Katurah, Ryan Lear, Ryan Dean Maltz, Emily Michaels King, and Autumn Ness), portray the bears, fish, birds, and other animals and people in the story, along with singing and dancing as needed (choreography by Drew McOnie). In fact, the creative team is mostly London-based: Max Webster directs, with scenic and costume design by Rob Howell, lighting design by Jon Clark, and sound design by Tom Gibbons. Local artist James Vasquez serves as associate director, while North County's Elan McMahon is music director.
There are a lot of moving parts, but the show flows along for two hours, including one fifteen minute intermission, without making audience members aware of how many moving parts are operating at any one time. And, the lesson of "UNLESS"" is one that adults as well as children will surely find beneficial to heed.
Performs through August 12, 2018, on The Old Globe's Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage in Balboa Park, 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego CA. Performance days and times are: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday evenings at 7:00 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 12:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. Tickets are available by calling the box office at (619) 234-5623 or by visiting www.theoldglobe.org.