Once upon a time, there was no Dr. Seuss.
That will be hard for anyone born after The Depression to believe, but it's true: "And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street," Theodore Geisel's first book for children, will celebrate its 75th anniversary next year.
Over his long life, Geisel was a political cartoonist, a propagandist for the U.S. Army, a screenwriter for the Oscar-winning short "Gerald McBoing-Boing" and the Oscar-nominated feature "The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T," an advertising copywriter (specializing in elephants!) and the most popular children's author of the 20th century.
And nine years after his death in 1991, he inspired a musical called "Seussical," which opens at ImaginOn tonight in the hands of Children's Theatre of Charlotte.
It's a mashup of Horton the Elephant, the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, the Cat in the Hat, Yertle the Turtle and many other creatures whose exploits 8-year-olds love to read aloud in verse.
Here are five things you might want to know about it.
Who wrote it?
Lynn Ahrens did the lyrics, Stephen Flaherty composed the music, and they collaborated on the book. They're known best for the sprawling "Ragtime," a dramatic look at immigrants clashing with established society after 1900, and the folksy "Once on This Island," a Caribbean retelling of "The Little Mermaid."
What's its history?
It debuted on Broadway in 2000 to mixed reviews and closed six months later. The creators trimmed songs, added explanatory dialogue and cut the show to 90 minutes.
"Seussical" has always been popular in one version or another with community theaters and schools. (Reportedly, it was the second most-performed musical in U.S. high schools as of 2007.) The short version was staged off-Broadway that year, and it's the one often done now.
Which version do we get?
Artistic director Alan Poindexter says Children's Theatre will return to the full-length script originally produced on Broadway: "It's a two-act show that includes some important storylines, like the Butter Battle, that have been left out of later, shortened versions."
What's unique at CTC?
"The look of our show is inspired by Dr. Seuss' original illustrations," he says. "He liked to use either white or very dark backgrounds, and we are playing with a lot of white in the show, with some much darker visual effects. The idea of a white page or a white room is very exciting to me, because it leaves space in the audience's imaginations for all kinds of possibilities.
"This will contrast with detailed, colorful costumes, which are also inspired by Seuss' illustrations. Some of the animal forms are deconstructed to the human form, but some are not."
Can adults enjoy it, too?
"While doing research for the show, I was struck by how much Seuss' stories deal with the darker side of human nature - our prejudices, our cruelties and our sometimes lemming-like tendencies," says Poindexter. "His characters usually get happy endings. But along the way, there are dark twists and turns.
"In 'Seussical,' characters have to make difficult choices, and they are usually ostracized and mocked by society before those choices pay off. For me, the overall message is that you can transform your life, as long as you're willing to take the risks to get the rewards. That's a valuable lesson, regardless of age."