The Good Dr. Is Very In

At last, a means of upstaging actor Jon Gentry -- whose huge presence swipes every scene in every play he's ever appeared in -- has been discovered: Surround him, as has been done in Childsplay's Seussical, with wildly costumed, maniacally energetic players, a frantic and noisy score, custom choreography, and Scott Withers as an elephant, and Gentry becomes just another charming actor in a better-than-average musical.

This is the trimmed-for-kids version of Seussical: The Musical, which bombed on Broadway a few years ago. The youngsters' edition is focused on a tale of Horton the Elephant (Withers) that combines the story lines from two Theodor (Dr. Seuss) Geisel books about the precocious pachyderm. He's joined here by a pile of Seussian creatures, all presided over by the Cat in the Hat (Gentry), frantically choreographed by Michael Barnard, and magically lighted by Michael J. Eddy.

There's still enough innuendo and entendre here to keep adults entertained, but it's so subtle that the show is still kid-safe (unless your child is precocious enough to get that Mayzie LaBird is a shady lady who abandons her child, and assuming that you and your kid can make out every line sung, which is nearly impossible thanks to Scottsdale Center's incredibly crappy sound system).

The musical score by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty pays tribute to familiar Seuss stories and characters and to Geisel's very lyrical rhyme schemes, some of them lifted wholesale from the originals but most cleverly written in silly Seussian style. The tunes, all played perfectly by Alan Ruch and a four-piece band, range from a sweet lullaby ("Solla Sollew") to the big-message show tune "How Lucky You Are," which demands that we appreciate what we have because things could be a lot worse.

There are other morals lessons -- everyone matters; imagination is good; war is bad -- but none so unsubtle that they ever overtake the tuneful fun that covers this production like a big flannel blanket. The players are clearly having a ball -- as ever, Withers and Katie McFadzen add some real depth to their zingy cartoon characters -- on Edie Whitsett's magnificent Seuss-inspired set.

Kish Finnegan's costumes are so Seusslike that they look like line drawings come to life: cerise flapper dresses on the Bird Girls; punched-up pastel zoot suits (sans jackets) on the Wickersham Brothers; and everything trimmed in vivid, cartoonish fuzz and feathers that scream "Seuss!" Perhaps Finnegan also designed the hilarious wigs (the program doesn't say), which define characters and provide additional laughs, none so loud as those aimed at McFadzen's twisted-to-the-sky Whoville number.

Probably the best endorsement for Childsplay's Seussical came from the hundreds of children present at the Saturday matinee I attended: They stayed in their seats and kept their yaps shut, for the most part, which is nigh unto impossible with any kiddy audience. It appeared they were too enraptured to, as Seuss once wrote, "emit a single peep."