You take a pretty big gamble in trying to bring a kid lit classic like Dr. Seuss' The Cat In the Hat to life. Consider the much-loathed film version from a few years back starring Mike Myers.
Fortunately, the version of Cat running now at Manitoba Theatre for Young People is considerably more successful.
This stage adaptation was originally developed by British director Katie Mitchell, and is brought to MTYP by Minneapolis' Children's Theater Company. Its greatest success is in staying true to Dr. Seuss' original story, keeping its embellishments on the short picture book true to the tone and style of the source material.
In that, it follows a simple story - the boredom of a rainy day for two youngsters (played here with childlike charm and plenty of good-natured mugging by Elaine Patterson and Douglas Neithercott) is broken by the arrival of the titular cat (Jim Lichtscheidl), who brings playful anarchy into the children's home.
Gerald Drake, Dean Holt and Douglas Neithercott (Dan Norman)
Of course, Seuss' picture book leans heavily on illustration, using his famous rhyming verse sparingly to tell the story. And in that tradition, Mitchell's adaptation (directed by CTC's Jason Ballweber) wisely clocks in under an hour, and fills out the sparse dialogue with plenty of wordless, smartly choreographed physical schtick.
Which is not to say there are many quiet moments in The Cat In the Hat
- the production is enlivened considerably by sharply-timed, goofy sound effects (courtesy sound designer Sean Healey) and a frantically energetic musical score by Paul Clark.
Samantha Jones' set and props, meanwhile, are faithfully designed in the cartoonish style of Seuss' illustrations, and effectively help transport us into his off-kilter world.
But the arrival of the Cat's minions of chaos, Thing 1 and Thing 2 (played with gleeful abandon by Gabby Zonneveld and Noah Crandell) highlights one of this production's weakest links - its title character. Lichtscheidl brings a welcome wry touch of Snagglepuss to his Cat, but overall, could take the character further than he does. As it stands, there seems a curious restraint in his portrayal of the Cat, especially when compared to the impish energy of the Things.
It's the only significant knock, though, against a production that otherwise delivers a lot of what the Cat would describe as "fun that is funny" for young audiences.
Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat is at Manitoba Theatre for Young People until Dec. 21