BWW Review: STAGES St. Louis's Incredibly Fun SEUSSICAL
There's just something magical about the world of Dr. Seuss and its hold on children. It's the language he uses to tell his fanciful tales. It's re-invented and rhymed in a manner that clearly appeals to children and adults. SEUSSICAL is a catchy and clever musical that adapts various elements from some of his most famous works, and it comes in many shapes and sizes. STAGES St. Louis is presenting a wonderful production of one of the shorter versions in their Theatre for Young Audiences series this season, and I cannot recommend it highly enough! It seems like I'm always saying that at this time of the year, but the professionalism you see each season is amazing, and it continues to develop, especially at the Westport Playhouse, where the intimate confines allow close and plentiful contact with audience members. This particular aspect really makes a difference when you're taking your child to the theatre for the first time. They actually become completely immersed in the experience, and adults will as well.
Basically, this take on the musical concentrates its activities on the characters that most people are familiar with. The story finds The Cat in the Hat visiting a young boy named JoJo and inserting him into the land of Whoville. Horton the elephant discovers their microscopic habitat on a speck of dust that lies on a sprig of clover. Though he desperately tries to protect them, two monkeys steal the sprig, and then a vulture snatches it up and drops it into a field overflowing with clover. His attempts to recover it are fruitless, and he winds up being distracted by Mayzie Le Bird, who tricks him into sitting on her egg while she sneaks away to Palm Beach. The plot thickens when Horton is discovered by hunters and taken away to a circus to be put on exhibit. But the day is saved by Gertrude McFuzz, whose interest in Horton is decidedly romantic.
Ryan Cooper is a perfectly disarming and amusing Cat in the Hat, with nimble movements and well-timed comic delivery of lines that bring forth smiles and laughs from young and old alike . You can just see that he's having fun. Cooper and Company draw the audience into the tale immediately with the rousing opening number "Oh! The Things You Can Think," and Cooper takes on several different comedic roles throughout the proceedings. As JoJo, Colton James Kastrup is a very believable little boy, and definitely possesses just the right voice and enthusiastic innocence that fit the part. Anthony Arpino absolutely shines as Horton, with a warm and deeply concerned performance that makes you genuinely care about his plight. April Strelinger is delightfully vainglorious as Mayzi and oozes attitude to spare. Leah Berry is simply terrific as Gertrude McFuzz, a single-feathered bird who's in love with Horton, but having trouble getting him to realize it. Her take on "Notice Me, Horton" is a sad and sweet delight.
Galyana Castillo shows off a big, soulful voice as the Sour Kangaroo, and "Biggest Blame Fool" mixes some punchy R&B into the tuneful score by Stephen Flaherty (music & book) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics and book). "Monkey Around" is a fun showcase for Kyle Pollak and Jacob Scott as the duo portray simians looking to bully Horton (they're also the hunters, and Scott is the newly elected Mayor of Whoville as well). Bird Girls Claire Logan and Sarah Larson, who also plays Mrs. Mayor, contribute quite nicely to the action.
Director Michael Hamilton and choreographer Ellen Isom have fashioned a fast paced production that's extremely well performed, and considerably tight in execution. The actors are clearly enjoying their work, and that approach is infectious. Lisa Campbell Albert's music direction sounds superb, as always, and James Wolk's gorgeous scenic design is spectacular in its recreation of the world of Dr. Seuss. Garth Dunbar's colorful costumes add lovely little touches that define the characters without covering them up too much, and Jeff Behm's lighting design is both imaginative and evocative.
STAGES St. Louis's high energy, family-friendly, presentation of SEUSSICAL is a complete delight, filled with good humor and charm to spare. Go see this winning entry in their annual Theatre for Young Audiences production through July 2, 2017 at the Westport Playhouse. The close proximity gained at this venue makes SEUSSICAL a very special kind of entertainment that will engage everyone who sees it.