For its 30th anniversary season, the Eau Claire Children’s Theatre is pulling a gift out of its hat.
Actually, a hat figures prominently in the gift itself: a production of “The Cat in the Hat” for which all tickets were given away free of charge.
The production, which runs Friday through Sunday at The Oxford, is expected to play to a full house, as all the tickets have already been handed out.
ECCT executive director Wayne Marek said the move made sense for a number of reasons, starting with the obvious one.
“If you want to come see a show or to have that experience with your kids, why wouldn’t you want to snag some free tickets?” he said.
Among other factors that figured into the decision, Marek said, they performed the show four years ago so they had a good stock of props and costumes, thus reducing the amount of sponsorship dollars needed.
And, of course, the book by Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, holds iconic status in the children’s literature canon. As it turned out, the play is being performed during a week when local schools are celebrating Read Across America as well as commemorating the birthday of Geisel, who died in 1991. To that end, some of the tickets were given to schools to use as incentives or prizes for Read Across America events.
Credited with a key role in children’s literacy efforts, the tale stars a mischievous feline who entertains two kids while their mom is away and then disappears without a trace before her return, so no one’s the wiser. It’s a story line that has delighted since the book came out in 1957.
“What kid doesn’t want to have a guest playmate show up that’s a little naughty and they have some fun that they ordinarily wouldn’t have?” Marek said.
Eric Vanden Heuvel, who is reprising the title role he also performed in 2015, agreed, citing “that thrill of being able to break the rules and not get caught.”
The first show that Vanden Heuvel ever performed for ECCT, “Cat in the Hat” stands out for its frenetic pace through it approximately 35-minute running time.
“There’s so much going on,” he said, pointing especially to the physical humor. “It’s one of the most exhausting shows I’ve done.”
The show also should engage viewers by by re-creating the images on the page.
“(T)he stage pictures and the items on stage and all of the extensive props are based on the illustrations in the book,” Marek said. “Everything that’s on stage is designed based on the illustrations in the book.”
Vanden Heuvel said some of the cat’s tricks also are re-created. “It’s magical if you can use some stage magic to make some of those things work ... balance on a ball, holding up all the toys on a little umbrella.”
Such tricks are bound to ensure that this is another cat that has multiple lives.