I have always loved Dr. Seuss books, especially when I was a little kid. They have bright drawings, funny rhymes, and whimsical nonsense words. I would even spend hours engrossed in a single Seuss book, sprawled on my bed with my door shut. That's why I was skeptical when I heard that The 500 Hats was being made into a play. I thought, "How could they make a full-length production out of a picture book?" Despite my skepticism, I was rewarded with a play that stayed loyal to Seuss' colorful pictures, funny rhymes, and whimsical nonsense words, but was spiced up with fun, lively songs, some extra dialogue, and a few jokes and gags here and there.
For those of you who haven't read the book, a bored young boy, Bartholomew Cubbins, is sent to town to sell some cranberries. When the King of Didd comes through town and Bartholomew tries to take off his hat to show respect, another one appears in its place. No matter how hard he tries or how mad the King gets, Bartholomew cannot take off his hat. The King tries various ways to get the hat off, like getting the opinion of three wise men, asking the kingdom's finest archer to shoot it off, and a few more, none of which work.
The actors were really funny and showed a lot of expression. My two favorites were Bradley Greenwald (King Derwin, King of Didd) and Karl Baker Olson (Grand Duke Wilfred, the king's bratty nephew). Andrew Bergee (Bartholomew) portrayed his character well, but he looked kind of nervous in the opening night performance. Liam Kearns (Sir Snipps the hat expert, and the coachman) and David Cabot, Gerald Drake, and Dean Holt (three wise men) were interesting and fun to watch, but had very short parts.
I liked the music a lot. It was played by a live orchestra directed by Victor Zupanc, which included a flute, a piccolo, a clarinet, a trumpet, a French horn, a trombone, percussion, and keyboards. The songs themselves were lively and moved quickly; imagine if Dr. Seuss wrote music. One exception is the finale song, which was slow and dramatic.
Before I left for the theater, I found myself wondering how similar the play and the book would be. I was surprised to find out that they were almost identical. The dialogue was almost exactly the same (except for a few jokes and songs), and every character and his/her personality stayed intact. The sets and costumes were great recreations of the wonderful illustrations in the book. For example, in the play, Sir Alaric had the same triangular glasses, funky hairdo, flower-laden underwear, and ruler in his back pocket as he does in the book. This is probably the reason that The Children's Theatre is the only theater that Dr. Seuss let develop plays about his books.
The most baffling theatre magic in this play was the "Hat Trick." Somehow, when Andrew Bergee (Bartholomew) stood in a few spots and took his hat off, another one would somehow get sucked back onto his head. It went on too fast for someone in the darkness to slip it on, and they couldn't have been connected to a wire in his wig. Neither my parents nor I could figure it out. Theatre magic sure is amazing.
All in all, The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins is a great conversion of a classic book into a play. Though it is short (about an hour and fifteen minutes) because it is geared toward smaller children, it still offers interesting characters, a funny and well-written script, and an all-around good fun time for all ages.
Leon Shambroom is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer. His work has recently appeared inMinneapolis-St. Paul Magazine. He is a seventh grader in Minneapolis.