By John Dwyer
An amazing cast with great costuming and production values are the reasons to see this fine production of “Seussical, the Musical.” The songs by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty are first rate.
The problem though is the book by the same. Trying to fit too much in one show is their problem. Within two hours, our playwrights have touched on the plot lines of “Horton Hears a Who,” “Horton Hatches an Egg,” “Gertrude McFuzz,” “The Cat in the Hat,” and many more. Yes, the plot thickens, and not to the good of the tale. But regardless of my issues with the book, you can’t argue with the talent and joy exhibited by the actors on stage.
The central character is a small boy who, at the beginning of the show, discovers a red and white striped hat. He muses about who it might belong to and conjures up the Cat in the Hat. The Cat encourages the boy to think and to use his imagination. With the boy’s imagination, the Jungle of Nool is created, as well as Horton the Elephant, who becomes a dominant character and plotline for the show. Horton discovers a planet in a piece of dust, and takes on the responsibility of another, by hatching an egg for the beautiful Mayzie La Bird. The boy transports himself through his imagination into the speck of dust and into Whoville. He becomes, Jojo, the son of the Mayor there. He develops issues with his parents, who send him off to a military school that is run by General Genghis Kahn Schmitz.
Another subplot is that Horton has a love interest in his neighbor, Gertrude McFuzz, who is a bird. Well, I should say she loves him, but he does not know it. She feels unattractive due to a lack of tail feathers, and she body shames herself. Meanwhile, Horton’s altruism in caring about Whoville and by sitting on an egg are inspiring. But an elephant sitting on a bird is also an oddity and, when he is captured by hunter, he gets auctioned off to the Circus McGurkus.
As you can tell, it is a hard plot to follow with too many subplots. If you are interested in further explanation before or after the show, when you still may be a little confused, Wikipedia provides a very long synopsis. I imagine the producers wanted to fuse as many Seuss characters into a plotline as possible. This proved difficult. Cooking shows where the contestants are forced to use certain ingredients, instead of ones of their choosing to make a dish, come to mind. This is a challenge, and not the best way to create a meal or, in this case, a show.
But the talent brought to bear on the Music Mountain Theatre stage is incredible. The Cat in the Hat is the always charming Louis Palena. The boy/JoJo is played by different actors on alternate nights. They are Aidan Mclendon, Jason Weiland and Drew Freeman. Mclendon had an wide-eyed wonder that was perfect in the role, which is the protagonist of the piece. And there there was Tim Chastain, who was particularly impressive. He had the most stage time, and was tasked with the job of being Horton, that sensitive elephant with a heart as big as all outdoors. I never thought I could identify and care for an elephant this much, but Mr. Chastain was committed to his character, and brought subtlety and heart to a performance that a lesser actor would never have found.
Jenna Parrila rocks out as the Sour Kangaroo, who mocks Horton as she sings “Biggest Blame Fool.” Equally impressive is Shyara Nelson as Mayzie La Bird, who chirps out a whole lot of soul with “Amazing Mayzie” and her duet with the Cat in the Hat with “Mayzie in Palm Beach.” Jill Palena as Gertrude McFuzz is that sweet bird that can steal your heart with a song. And I really did love the monkey Wickersham Brothers (Kyle Weigand, Rhett Commodaro and Caleb Duffy), who were a simian boy group that brought the moves and vocals of what must be current in the jungle. Donald Hallcom, with an impressive legit voice, hits all the right notes in becoming the Mayor of Whoville. Toni Thompson is adorable as the bubbly mayor’s wife. And character actor Eddie Honan is spot on as the forceful, take no prisoners General Genghis Kahn Schmitz.
This is a great show to take the family to and hear fun songs sung by great voices. It also teaches both old and young how to be a better person. For those fans of Dr. Seuss, it is a fun couple of hours to revisit all the old characters. That the story meanders and tries to accomplish too much gets dwarfed by the talent in this fine production, directed and choreographed by the very talented team of Jordan Brennan and Louis Palena. The show runs through Feb. 18, and tickets can be purchased online.