A colorful chaos with the Cat, Horton, and friends
Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's zany tribute to Dr. Seuss's beloved children's books has one of the most delightful scores in musical theater. Although "Seussical" was considered a flop when it made its pre-Broadway debut at the Colonial Theatre, its combination of blues, rock 'n' roll, power ballads, and old-time production numbers offers plenty of songs that are easy to hum along to. And its collection of such Seuss characters as the Whos, a Sour Kangaroo, mischievous monkeys, and the Cat in the Hat has made it Ahrens and Flaherty's most requested title for school productions.
Wheelock Family Theatre's production captures all the colorful chaos in a show that celebrates imagination, creativity, and integrity. In between the beautiful ballads "Alone in the Universe" and "Solla Sollew," we follow Horton the elephant (a winning Kamau M. Hashim) and his efforts to protect his tiny Who friends, especially JoJo (the adorable Sirena Abalian), whose thinking leads him into trouble. These two odd fellows epitomize Seuss's respect for independent thinkers who stick to their convictions despite the ridicule of others.
The plot is more than a little ridiculous, and if you didn't have a passing acquaintance with the Wickersham Brothers, Yertle the Turtle, and Horton's commitment to "a person's a person no matter how small," you might feel a bit lost. Also, JoJo's punishment for daydreaming leads him to military school with General Genghis Khan Schmitz, and despite Peter A. Carey's crisp performance, this segue into war and JoJo's feared death strikes an odd note in the otherwise upbeat show.
But the audience at Wheelock is full of age-appropriate Seuss fans willing to answer any questions or clear up any confusion. To pull everything together onstage, the Cat in the Hat serves as master of ceremonies, and Wheelock's Andrew Barbato delivers a high-energy performance morphing from game-show host to circus ringmaster, doctor, and general mischief maker.
A standout among the Wheelock performers is Jennifer Beth Glick, who plays Gertrude McFuzz, Horton's unexpected love interest, with enormous charm and a terrific singing voice. She creates a wonderfully tender moment when she desperately tries to get Horton's attention with her outrageously inappropriate tail.
The songs benefit from the terrific musical direction of Jonathan Goldberg, and director Grace Napier does a great job defining the different playing areas and maneuvering the nearly three dozen performers into sensible groups. Costume designer Melissa Miller coordinated the costume colors with set designer James Williston, so that while Seuss's trademark vivid blues, yellows, and oranges are all there, they aren't so lurid that they make us cringe. And choreographer Laurel Stachowicz takes advantage of the younger cast members' acrobatic ability and the adults' jazzy moves.
At 2 1/2 hours, the show is a bit long for its target audience of 4- to 12-year-olds. But when you hear the kids in the audience marching out of the theater singing "Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!" and "It's Possible," you know this show is a hit.