The attraction of staging "The Cat in the Hat" is also the complication: "Everybody has read the book," says director Penny Caywood. "Everybody has an expectation of what it should look like."
The 1957 Dr. Seuss classic grew out of a more than 200 word vocabulary list that every beginning reader should know. Writer and illustrator Theodor Seuss Geisel, who published his work under the name of Dr. Seuss, received the list from a publisher. Later, he told interviewers he conjured up the story of the mischievous visitor by focusing on the first two words on the list that rhymed: cat and hat. Instead of another "Dick and Jane" reader with a limited vocabulary, "he came up with something miraculous," Caywood says, "a real story."
At publication, the book was lauded for how the drawings tell as much of the story as Seuss' simple verse. Over the years, the book has been adapted for stage, television and movies, including a 2003 live-action film starring Mike Myers as the Cat.
Now comes Salt Lake Acting Company's production, which draws upon a recent adaptation by the National Theatre of Great Britain. It's notable because it doesn't add or subtract any words from the original story, instead just adding movement, sound and music. "The production is everything that happens between the page turns," Caywood says. "It's just filling in the space between one page and the next."
That translate to fast transitions for the cast. One page of text can translate to a 20- or 30-second bit of comedy, all timed to music.
"It's an interactive feast for the eyes, the same feast for the eyes that kids had in seeing all those different words in one early reader," says Caywood, who in her day job is artistic director of University of Utah's Youth Theatre.
Some adaptations might make The Cat seem condescending to the children, but Caywood sees the character as more playful, not a stranger, but more like a crazy uncle. "He wants to play, and the kids are game," she says. And at the end, he comes back to clean everything up, which I love."
It's a pretty simple show, adds actor Austin Archer, who will be showing off a lot of dramatic magic as The Cat in the Hat juggles books and plates and Mother's vases. "If people have read the book, they know what they're getting. There's a lot of chaos that ensues when The Cat comes to visit. There's a lot of action."
It's the fifth children's production by Salt Lake Acting Company in an effort to expand its audience beyond current subscribers. The company works with the Salt Lake School District to invite students, kindergarten through second grade, from Title I elementary schools to matinee performances. This year, some 1,400 students are expected to see the show. In addition, the theater company works with Reach Out & Read Utah to help provide books to those students.
Each show includes warm-up presentations by Youth Theatre students, as well as talkbacks with the cast after the show. "I love doing the children's show because [theater] is so real for them at that age," Archer says. "That's when the magic is very real."
'The Cat in the Hat'
A stage adaptation of the children's classic adds music and movement but no additional words.
When • Dec. 6-28; afternoon and evening show times; check saltlakeactingcompany.org for details
Where • Salt Lake Acting Company, 168 W. 500 North, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $15 children; $25 adults; 801-363-7522; saltlakeactingcompany.org