Recycling is good! 'The Lorax' reuses a beloved story in the best way

Dan Norman

Dan Norman

Environmental messages aimed at kids tend to be simple and easy. Recycle. Don’t litter. The Lorax, though, engages a hard, complex truth: Environmental stewardship requires personal sacrifice in the service of a global good.

Children's Theatre Company

David Greig has written a superb stage adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ classic 1971 picture book, with songs by Charlie Fink of Noah and the Whale. The play premiered at London’s Old Vic in 2015, and Max Webster, who directed that production, now helms a U.S. premiere that’s playing at the Children’s Theatre Company before heading to San Diego for a summer run at co-producing partner the Old Globe.

Finn Caldwell, puppet director for the Old Vic production, also came along for this run—and that’s important, since this Lorax is a puppet. H. Adam Harris voices the mustachioed orange creature, which he manipulates along with Meghan Kreidler and Rick Miller. The Lorax’s foil is the Once-ler, played by a perfectly cast Steven Epp, who finds just the right tone for a character who needs to remain sympathetic even when he’s making destructive choices.

The Children’s Theatre can go over the top with their Seuss adaptations, but Webster ensures that all the gags and gimmicks rest on a rock-solid foundation of storytelling and character-building. The show grabs you from its first moments, as we meet the Once-ler ensconced atop his rickety retreat, only green arms and glowing eyes visible.

A sizable ensemble seems even more sizable due to the actors’ astonishingly quick changes among Rob Howell’s elaborate costumes. From Once-ler to forest creatures, the performers embody a range of roles with gusto. The show features many of the Twin Cities’ most charismatic and talented young actors (including Stephanie Bertumen, Ryan Colbert, Ryan Lear, and Emily Michaels King) along with veteran talents like Ansa Akyea and Autumn Ness.

Perhaps the most daunting challenge facing a Seuss adapter is getting the language right. Greig’s script celebrates Seuss’ gloriously rhythmic verse, while Fink’s songs range across an impressively broad sonic palette. Victor Zupanc’s dynamic band drowns the singers out on a couple of the more forceful numbers, but by and large, the show’s music tickles the ears.

This rich production works on several levels, making it well-suited for kids ranging from kindergartners to pre-tweens who will appreciate the play’s more challenging themes, and will catch references like a quick Trump jab. Howell’s fun and fascinating scenic design uses sets to tell the story, without relying on shortcuts like projections.

This Lorax is the rare picture-book adaptation that actually expands and amplifies the text’s themes, rather than just shoehorning a bunch of extra scenes into the story. You may be surprised at just how hard it hits you, no matter what age you are. Bring a (compostable) tissue.