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Theater Review: 'The Cat in the Hat' delights one and all

You have read "The Cat in the Hat." The Dr. Seuss classic is not very long and uses only 236 words.

So when you and your kids see everything that happens in the Playhouse Family Theatre's production of "The Cat in the Hat" that opened Saturday afternoon on the Depot Theatre stage, you will be impressed by the Theatre for Young Audiences' most engaging production to date.

The show started with three cast members coming out to make sure we knew how to applaud as loud as we could. I expected the same TYA curtain speech I know pretty much by heart. Instead, the trio had the entire audience create the rain storm at the start of the story by rubbing our hands, slapping our thighs, and stomping our feet.

What a wonderful way to set up this show.

Before the Cat in the Hat (Jacob Lindig) even comes through the door, the audience was totally captivated by the antics of the boy (Jesse Davis), Sally (Eden Nesburg) and the Fish (Lee E. Cutler). Brittany Wallerich and Lindsey Bushnell double as the Cat in the Hat's stage assistants and as Thing One and Thing Two.

The Cat in the Hat holding the Fish up high as he stands on a ball starting with a book on one hand and a cup on his hat and going on from there was an absolutely mesmerizing visual delight.

Director Rob Hadaway's set design includes a thrust stage down at kid level with multiple steps and ramps. All of the set pieces are ripped from the pages of the book. The creative use of sound cues and the wild array of homemade Seussical props are major factors in milking the book's few pages for all they are worth on stage.

The line of demarcation between Theatre for Young Audiences' productions on the Depot Theatre stage versus in the Underground has been the choice between spectacle and intimacy. While "The Cat in the Hat" lacks the spectacle of the set design for "The Fantastic Mr. Fox," the cast really connects with the audience, taking advantage of the wide gap between rows of seats to get close and personal with the kiddies.

There was much giggling and eager finger-pointing, plus much less running off to the restroom than usual. Almost all of the comic bits run from about 30 seconds to a minute, so there is little time for little kids to get bored. This show runs about three-quarters of an hour, which is pretty much the point where young attention spans reach their limit.

Only a third of the seats were filled, whereas "The Jungle Book" filled the place for its opening. Apparently films are better publicity than books, or maybe it was the time of the season or perhaps the suddenly nice weather.

I will just say that the only reason I am not coming back next weekend with my grandson is that Kieran turned six months old today.

If you go

What: "The Cat in the Hat" adapted by Katie Mitchell

Where: Depot Theatre, 506 W. Michigan St.

When: Saturdays 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., Sundays 2 p.m. through May 20

Tickets: $15 for adults, $12 for Youth/Students. For information: (218) 733-7555 or duluthplayhouse.org

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