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Seussical

One fish, two fish, red fish -- just see this amazing, heartfelt show, already

Just a little taste of the absurd, jubilant spectacle that is Seussical. Photo credit: Tacoma Little Theatre

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No use mincing words: Seussical, the latest show in Tacoma Little Theatre's 99th season, is a supremely open-hearted, deliriously goofy spectacle, and in its final two weeks of shows, it is not to be missed. This is a vivid, boisterous, and exhilaratingly staged production, a tornado of a show that somehow manages to find the perfect balance of a breakneck pace, an enormous (and enormously talented) cast, a top-notch design on all fronts, and a legitimately moving story at the center of it all. This is not only the best show I've seen at TLT, but could possibly be the best piece of theater I've seen since I started writing about the art in this fine rag.

Now that the gushing's out of the way, I'll hit you with the details. Seussical starts off in a pretty plum spot, drawing inspiration from more than a dozen of Dr. Seuss' timeless stories, most notably Horton Hears a WhoThe Cat in the Hat, and the character of Gertrude McFuzz. The musical plays out like a greatest hits of Seuss, remixing stories so that characters who never interacted in the original text come colliding together. We're navigated through the madness by master of ceremonies and agent of chaos the Cat in the Hat (a wonderful Christopher Sweet; if he hasn't yet played Dr. Frank-N-Furter, he ought to).

Soon, we meet our other three focal points: the sweet, kind, societally shunned elephant Horton (an empathetic Steve Barnett); Jojo (promising young actress Alexandria Bray) of the tiny Who, who only Horton can hear; and the smitten Gertrude (the utterly endearing Brittany Griffins), a bird who thinks her tail is too small to attract the attention of Horton. These stars are surrounded by a ludicrous ensemble of actors, and an immaculately designed set by Blake R. York, which nails the difficult task of recreating Seuss' iconic artwork.

Seussical's book is written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, with the two splitting music and lyrics duty, but Eric Idle was involved in early stages of its development. The extent of Idle's involvement is unclear, but the show's mix of clear-eyed pragmatism (we're all specks of dust in an indifferent universe) and rallying optimism (embrace everything about you that makes you unique) easily mirrors the themes Idle leaned on in songs he wrote for The Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life. Songs like Seussical's "How Lucky You Are" bear more than a passing resemblance to "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," lending the show a deserved bit of dark humor amidst the cartoonishness.

The actors, the sets, the songs, the air-tight arrangement -- all made possible through smart directing by Jen York, creative choreography by Eric Clausell, and nimble music direction by Terry O'Hara. Navigating so many moving parts in so many variations (the Cat will exit one side of the stage and emerge the other side, moments later, in a new costume, for God's sake) is a hell of a task, and they pulled it off in a way that made the impossible look effortless.

Seussical, 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, through Dec. 24, $22-$26, Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N. I St., Tacoma, 253.272.2281, tacomalittletheatre.com

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