The Music Circus management’s decision to include a show clearly intended to appeal to pre-teens was fully realized last week with the production of “Seussical.” The musical is unashamedly built off of the children’s stories by Dr. Seuss with music added that attempts to capture the spirit of the author’s humor and charm. The production was staged last week at the Wells Fargo Pavilion. We attended the Saturday night performance.
The musical was “co-conceived” by Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty and Monty Python member Eric Idle. Ms. Ahrens and Mr. Flaherty wrote the book, and Ms. Ahrens provided the lyrics for Mr. Flaherty’s music. The story, such as it is, focuses on Horton the Elephant and the tiny people of Who, whom Horton discovers one day (the how of that discovery escaped us, but no matter) and then determines to protect from harm against all cost. The plot that develops then allows the introduction of other Seuss characters, including the short-tailed bird Gertrude McFuzz, the self-possessed starlet bird, Mayzie LaBird, and Sour Kangaroo, along with the Mayor of Whoville and his wife, General Genghis Kahn Schmitz, Thing One and Thing Two, the Grinch (who stole Christmas), and assorted other Seuss creations. We don’t claim to be fully versed in the world of Seuss, but we assume that all the main characters from his books find their way into the story that is told in two relatively short acts.
It’s all very light fare, with messages – be aware of your good fortune, keep smiling in the face of adversity, shun war and hostility, love everyone – that are none-too-subtly contained in the lyrics and story. Whatever the show’s appeal for adults (we weren’t exactly swept away by the whole thing, while others of parent and grandparent age clearly were), it is enchanting for the younger set. Many in the audience appeared to be in the range of 2-10 years old, and all of those we were able to observe seemed to be completely engrossed in every minute of the production.
The cast was uniformly strong, even though the show is bereft of any real show-stopping numbers and this production lacked any scene-stealing performances. The always excellent Jason Graae (a Music Circus veteran) serves as the master of ceremonies as The Cat in the Hat. Mr. Graae spends a lot of time in his role acting as a cheerleader, but he also takes on a number of other roles in various scenes throughout the show. Young Josh Davis serves as the embattled son of Whoville’s Mayor as JoJo, but also serves as an assistant MC to Mr. Graae’s character at times. Both put a lot of energy into their roles, which the audience appreciated.
Of the rest of the cast, John Treacy Egan was excellent as Horton, whether sitting on (with) the egg he is left with at one point or zealously guarding the whiff of cotton on which the citizens of Whoville are hidden at many others. Bets Malone and Ginifer King also offered strong portrayals of the two birds in the story (Ms. Malone sang nicely as the tail-challenged Gertrude McFuzz, and Ms. King vamped impressively as the self-possessed Mayzie LaBird). Rounding out the cast were Sharon Wilkins as Sour Kangaroo, Stuart Marland (fresh from his leading role in “Hello, Dolly!”) as the general, and Jamie Torcellini and Eydie Alyson as, respectively, the Whoville mayor and his wife. A strong 23-member ensemble (including nine from the Music Circus “Junior Company”) filled the rest of the roles.
Musical highlights included “Oh, The Thinks You Can Think!,” which opens and closes the show; “It’s Possible” (Mr. Graae and Josh Davis); “Alone in the Universe” (Mr. Egan and Josh Davis); “The One Feather Tail of Miss Gertrude McFuzz” (Ms. Malone); “How Lucky You Are” (Mr. Graae); “Mayzie in Palm Beach” (Ms. King, Mr. Graae, and Mr. Egan); and “Havin’ A Hunch” (Mr. Graae and Josh Davis).
The whole affair was ably directed by Glenn Casale, effectively using the aisles for several important scenes to allow the action to keep moving while sets were changed on the main stage. Dennis Castellano was musical director and conducted a solid 16-member orchestra. The limited (too limited) choreography was by Bob Richard. The characters’ puppets (Sour Kangaroo’s in particular) were designed by Richard Bay and Kara Ow. Mr. Bay and Tim Dugan designed the sets, and Kate Bergh (costumes) and Christine Conklin (hair, wigs, and makeup) made sure the actors looked their parts.
“Seussical” isn’t a great musical, but it’s effective in what it seeks to do, and this production was professional in every respect.