If you weigh the price of a theater ticket against how much theater you actually get, Pittsburgh Musical Theater's production of Seussical the Musical is probably the most cost-effective show in town.
It's not just that there's such a huge cast on stage -- the program lists 54(!) performers. And it's not just that all these people sing more than 30 songs. It's also that Seussical is not, in fact, just one show: It's several Dr. Seuss stories woven into a bigger narrative. When you put all of that on one stage ... you surely do get an exponentially large amount of theater.
Which may be why Seussical had such a rocky time on Broadway when it opened in 2000. Out-of-town word had been good: Monty Python's Eric Idle had been involved as writer and performer, and the show was the follow-up to the huge success of Ragtime, featuring the same director, Frank Galati, and the same team of lyricist Lynn Ahrens and composer (and Pittsburgh's own) Stephen Flaherty.
But once on Broadway, the trouble became immediately apparent. All the singing and dancing, all the theater, all the show-biz pizzazz ... and it just buries the actual story. Dr. Seuss was, above all, a master of less-is-more ("one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish"), and the slender, if not elliptical, quality of his writing is a huge part of the charm of his work.
But slender and elliptical weren't very much in evidence. (A friend who saw the Broadway production in previews said it was like watching a drag queen wearing all of her outfits at once.) Every song that Flaherty and Ahrens have come up with is great. But then you realize you've sat through more than two dozen, with more on the way -- and that maybe greatness isn't necessarily the quality you're after at this point. Ragtime's a very tune-filled show as well, but its big themes can support it. Seussical struggles and strains to hold everything packed inside it.
Interestingly, once the show closed in New York, it was completely rewritten for the road and, by all accounts, that new version is a huge improvement.
I wouldn't know, however, because it seems that Pittsburgh Musical Theater is staging the original production. Which its cast and crew do, let me rush to say, with a huge amount of their own show-biz pizzazz. I mean, I didn't think there were 54 singers and dancers left in Pittsburgh; where'd they find all these people? And my hat's off to musical director Brent Alexander and his orchestra for getting through the whole score with such verve.
Tim Hartman plays the Cat in the Hat, the show's narrator, and it's a joy to watch a man who knows how to work an audience, work an audience. Christian Delcroix could not be more charming as Horton the Elephant, with solid support by Emily Lynne Miller, as Gertrude McFuzz. In fact, the entire cast, under the direction of Colleen Petrucci and Ken Gargaro, gives you just about as much entertainment punch for your buck as you could possibly want.
Just how much you want is the crux of the matter.
Seussical the Musical continues through Sun., April 3. Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. 412-456-6666 or www.pgharts.org