Quote of the Day: Now, the Star-Belly Sneetches had bellies with stars. The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars. Those stars weren’t so big. They were really so small. You might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all.
Thus begins Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) in his social satire children’s book, The Sneetches. The Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis, MN has the honor and distinction of gaining the rights to develop this famous story into a musical stage production. It is premiering now on their stage. Philip Dawkins wrote the book and lyrics. David Mallamud wrote the music, and Artistic Director of CTC, Peter C. Brosius directed this bright and amazing production. What a thrill to be the first audience to experience this work.
Theodor Geisel, born on March 2, 1904, was in high school during WWI, and wrote political satire cartoons through the the 1940’s and WWII, supporting President Roosevelt. His children’s books speak of social and environmental concerns, racial inequality, world dominance, and learning how to build community by facing your fears and learning how we’re more the same than different.
My four sons often chose a Dr. Seuss book for bedtime stories, enjoying the rhyme and rhythm to the text, the clever illustrations, and the characters who had a few things to learn. They especially liked it when their dad read Yertle the Turtle with his deep voice, and just a hint of sarcasm. And, who can forget the two stubborn Zax who stood firm in their tracks, while the world built up and moved around them? My sister Nancy does the best reading of Too Many Daves.
For me, it was The Sneetches who gave my heart pause. Why were those stars so important? How did they make one Sneetch superior to the other? Why are lines drawn in the sand, never to be crossed by either party, lest the whole world and its ideologies collapse? The creators of the new musical have captured those themes and brought out the emotion of those lines, that could have been walls, and who has the courage to cross, and question, them. Naturally, it takes a child.
Standlee (Natalie Tran) is the most delightfully, spirited, rebellious little Sneetch. She’s part of the Haves, but is still not fitting in. She wanders over to the Have-Nots and challenges the unsuspecting Diggitch (Reed Sigmund) interrupting his drudgery of painting green stars on yellow beach balls (a little like Boo in Monsters Inc.). Standlee points out that he has all those bright beach balls. She needs someone to play catch with, and he’s in need of some fun. She pulls at his heartstrings when she talks about how lonely and friendless she is. Of course, their friendship is discovered and pandemonium ensues.
Enter the crafty salesman Sylvester McMonkey McBean (Bradley Greenwald) and his amazing Star-on/Star-off machine. His song reminded me of when Professor Harold Hill comes to Iowa and announces “There’s trouble, right here in River City.” He convinces the Plain-Belly Sneetches that he has the answer. They pay money to get stars upon thars. Then, the Star-Bellies want clearer distinction, so they get their stars removed. After several bouts of “Off again! On again! In again! Out again! Through the machines they raced round and about again, Changing their stars every minute or two,” and all the while the price going up, Standlee stops and announces, “Everyone’s the same, whether they have stars or not.”
While Sylvester McMonkey McBean drives away covered in money, he declares, “You can’t teach a Sneetch.” Showing understanding for people who might appear different takes courage and compassion. It takes a willingness to cross the line, tear it up if need be, smile and shake hands. What’s needed is a change of heart, not stars, to erase those lines in the sand.
The Sneetches at the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis is fantasical, satirical, relevant, and bright! Dean Holt plays the Beachwatcher who reminded me a bit of Big Brother, always watching. (I’m currently listening to the audio of 1984, made even more chilling by the exceptional narration by Simon Prebble.) Both Orwell and Geisel had plenty of commentary on society, war, and oppression. While you are aware of those themes in this production, you also get what the Children’s Theater does best, heart, compassion, and wisdom that is lead by the sweet actions of a child.
You can see The Sneetches at The Children’s Theatre Company through March 26, 2017.
Here’s a link to a video that one of our Twin Cities Theater Bloggers, Kendra (Artfully Engaging) shot in a behind-the-scenes tour at the Children’s Theater Company. Something about building a wall seemed too far-fetched…hmmm.
Go. Create. Inspire!
Journaling Prompt: Do you need a better understanding of a group of people? Who are they? What are some things that make you the same?