Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's first three Broadway musicals, Once on This Island, My Favorite Year, and Ragtime, each suggested by its subject an appropriate style of music to employ, and to a large extent, they followed the material, writing island music, 1950s-style pop, and ragtime as required. For their fourth musical, Seussical, based on the children's stories of Dr. Seuss, "We found there were no limits to what kind of music we could use," they wrote in a note contained in the booklet to the original Broadway cast album. As a result, "The score emerged as a Seussian gumbo of musical styles" that ended up including elements of Latin, swing, gospel, R&B, funk, Spike Jones-style comedy music, vaudeville, and synthesizer pop, among other things. It sounds like Flaherty also may have recycled music from earlier shows, with "Amayzing Mayzie" having the Caribbean feel of Once on This Island and "A Day for the Cat in the Hat" sounding like something from Ragtime. The familiarity of the styles makes the music seem like a series of pastiches, however, from the pop/rock of the "Overture" to the Aretha Franklin/Patti LaBelle impersonation Sharon Wilkins indulges in during "Biggest Blame Fool" and elsewhere, concluding with the swing sound of "Green Eggs and Ham." Far more accomplished are the more traditional pop theater songs, particularly "Alone in the Universe." But if Flaherty's music does not impress, Ahrens' lyrics do. Occasionally borrowing directly from Seuss, she writes songs that capture the zany style of the books. Though she and Flaherty have deliberately undertaken disparate projects, the element that unites them is the warmheartedness of their tone. Ahrens always approaches her material with sympathy and sweetness, which makes a children's show a good project for her. In their libretto, she and Flaherty have not entirely solved the problem of knitting together a group of separate stories, so the show is episodic. Just as the music lacks unity, so does the plot. But individual parts work well, and it's Ahrens' lyrics, particularly the affecting song of devotion "All for You," and some of the performances, notably those of Kevin Chamberlin as Horton the Elephant, Michele Pawk as Mayzie LaBird, and Janine LaManna as Gertrude McFuzz, that give the show its best moments.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann