Release Date: 02.06.01
Record label: Universal
Genre(s): Classical, Jazz
Oh, The Thinks
by: chris pazdernik
Writing a musical based on the works of Dr. Seuss would always prove to be an incredibly brave move. Many people would argue the stories are perfect just as they are and should not be tampered with. But with the same composer-lyricist team that was behind the musical Ragtime and the animated Anastasia, it would sound better. I am happy to report that the music, at least, is very enjoyable.
Enjoyable music, though, does not always mean original. Stephen Flaherty's music is tuneful, but is really just a jumble of many different styles of music, almost none of which sound very Seuss-ian. On the other hand, Lynn Ahrens took the difficult route with writing over 3/4 of her own lyrics (instead of just using Seuss' verses) and they have succeeded in blending seamlessly with Dr. Seuss' own words. His widow also notes this in the liner notes (which are surprisingly complete, with the shows plot woven in among the song lyrics.)
The show kicks off with the high-energy "Oh, The Thinks You Can Think!", the only song in the show which does have a Seuss-ian feel to it. David Shiner is introduced as the Cat in the Hat. He may not have a great, belting voice, but he brings his own style and wit to the Cat in the Hat and does the role justice. We are introduced also to the ensemble, which is the most talented and energetic group of performers I've heard in a while.
This is followed closely by "Biggest Blame Fool." It may sound like every other pseudo-R&B song you've heard in a musical, but with Sharon Wilkins (as the Sour Kangaroo) belting it out in her strong, velvety smooth voice, it turns out to be quite a treat. It is further helped by the introduction of two vocal groups: The Bird Girls and the Wickersham Brothers. Both groups have tremendous power and harmony and the composer was right to bring them in often during the album.
The next highlight on the album is "Alone in the Universe." Here we finally hear Kevin Chamberlin, as Horton the Elephant, sing. His voice isn't tremendous, but he hits all the notes with decent enough tone. His characterization of Horton, though, is remarkable. You can't see his actions, but you can imagine just how he looks simply by hearing his voice. It's no wonder he was nominated for a Tony.
Next in the line-up is "Amayzing Mayzie" and "Amayzing Gertrude." Don't let the titles fool you, they're really the same tune. Seems as if Flaherty took a tip from Andrew Lloyd Webber. I really hoped for something more than this generic Latin song from the man who gave us Ragtime; it reminds me of every other Latin number ever written for the musical stage. This may have more to do with the orchestration, by Doug Besterman. They never have the same feel from track to track, and are always bland and generic. The vocalists, though, are fantastic (Michele Pawk and Janine LaManna, respectively).
LaManna shows up again later in "Notice Me, Horton", which for my money is the best track on the album. The melody soars in the right places and LaManna's voice does the song more than justice. Even the orchestrations sound better than most.
The last highlight on the album is "Solla Sollew". The song is a beautiful, flowing melody showing off the whole ensemble. Kudos to musical director David Holcenberg for his fantastic work with the entire cast and ensemble. Every performer is at the best of his or her (though sometimes limited) ability. The chorus and vocal groups especially sound energetic and melodious.
While only the most die-hard musical theatre fans willl appreciate the wonderful melodies and lyrics, most others though, will get annoyed by the typical sound and the inconsistency of style. However, for anyone truly interested in the show, it may be the only way to hear it, as it recently closed on Broadway.