SCT opened its 2005-2006 season on September 16 with a new version of the Broadway musical Seussical, based on the beloved works of Dr. Seuss. The Tony Award-winning team who created the score for Ragtime, Lynn Ahrens (playwright/lyricist) and Stephen Flaherty (playwright/composer), wove together many of Dr. Seuss’ imaginative themes and characters into the original show. The shorter version was reworked specifically for Theatre for Young Audience (TYA) venues, with the blessing and collaboration of Ahrens and Flaherty.
“We believe this new version will have a great impact on the field [of theatre for young audiences],” said Ahrens. “As we have discovered by watching many, many audiences respond to the show, Seussical entertains and amuses adults and children alike, but also provides a great deal of food for thought and conversation. Weaving together more than 20 of Dr. Seuss’ most famous stories and characters, the musical touches on some of his deepest themes—respect for the individual, the power of the mind, our responsibility to the natural world, the meaning of loyalty and parenthood.”
Seattle Children’s Theatre is only the second theatre to produce Seussical, featuring direction by Jeff Church (SCT’s The Wrestling Season), who is artistic director of The Coterie Theatre in Kansas City, MO. It was Church who approached Ahrens and Flaherty about producing a shorter version of Seussical that would be suitable for professional children’s theatres. Together they created a streamlined show, pared down to the essentials, which is 75 minutes instead of 2 ½ hours, and features 11 actors instead of 30, with 26 musical numbers. The play premiered at The Coterie last year to sell-out audiences and critical acclaim:
“The Coterie’s energetic new production of a re-imagined “Seussical” is marvelous children’s theater,” wrote Derek Donovan of The Kansas City Star.
Jane Loutzenhiser of The Wednesday wrote: “It is incredibly fun, inspiring, toe tapping and whimsical and boasts an amazingly talented cast. There is much to praise, as it’s an experience you won’t soon forget. It’s utterly engaging with its catchy music, clever lyrics, witty wackiness, impressive talent, colorful set and costumes, and substantial messages.”
Of the rework, Ahrens said: “…the physical production was executed on a small scale, but with great humor and theatricality. Reviews of The Coterie production glowed with praise for its whimsy and restraint, its inventive puppetry, its simplicity, imagination and witty direction. This was a Seussical never before seen, and new doors were opening.”
Ahrens and Flaherty have been collaborators in musical theatre since 1983. They are best known for their 1998 Tony Award-winning score of Ragtime, which also received two Grammy nominations and the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards; and Anastasia, which received two Academy Award nominations and two Golden Globe nominations. They are also the co-creators of the hit Broadway musical Once on this Island, which received eight Tony Award nominations. In addition, Seussical was Grammy-nominated in 2000.
Horton the elephant is a sensitive guy, so sensitive he is the only one who can hear the tiny Whos living on their speck of dust in Whoville. He pledges to save the Whos from the fickle winds of fate, but his neighbors in the Jungle of Nool all think Horton’s crazy. They play keep-away with Whoville until it gets lost in a field of clover, but Horton vows to save Who.
Gertrude the Bird, who has a bit of a crush on Horton, tries to get his attention by getting a doctor to add a fabulous flurry of feathers to her tail! Horton, however, has a one-track mind—finding the dust speck before Whoville is destroyed. In his relentless search, he comes across Mayzie sitting on an egg in her nest. Horton agrees to watch over the egg while Mayzie takes a vacation. Now Horton’s in a pickle: how can he find the Whos while sitting on an egg?
Next thing he knows, hunters arrive and capture Horton, egg, nest and tree, and send them off to the circus. Thank goodness for Gertrude, for once she sheds her unneeded feathers she is able to free Horton and the egg and manages to find Whoville in its field of clover. If only the rest of Nool believed that the Whos existed, they’d be safe from danger, but instead they are taken to court. Judge Yertle the Turtle finds against the Whos and sentences the dust speck to be boiled in Beezlenut oil.
It’s up to JoJo Who’s big imagination to remind all the people, some short and some tall, that a person’s a person, no matter how small. Through his mighty yawp JoJo manages to reach all the ears in Nool; the inhabitants in the Jungle realize their mistake and pledge to watch over Whoville too. Just as all seems to be resolved, Horton’s egg starts to hatch! A half bird, half elephant is what appears; perfect for Horton and Gertrude to raise throughout the years.
The cast for Seussical includes Greg Michael Allen as Wickersham Brother/Mr. Mayor/Ensemble, Daniel C. Dennis at Cat in the Hat, Elias James Higham as JoJo, Louis Hobson as Wickersham Brother/Ensemble, Kirsten Hopkins as Gertrude McFuzz, Auston James as Horton, Lakeetra Knowles as Sour Kangaroo/Ensemble, Ian Lindsay as Wickersham Brother/Judge Yertle/Ensemble, Bhama Roget as Bird Girl/Mrs. Mayor/Ensemble, Tanesha Ross as Bird Girl/Ensemble, Pamela Turpen as Bird Girl/Ensemble, and Billie Wildrick as Mayzie La Bird/Marshal. Joshua Froebe is an alternate for JoJo. David Duvall and Jim Fisher are the alternating pianists; Dave Pascall is featured on bass and percussion. Art Anderson, Alyssa Keene, Tanesha Ross and John Silverman are the understudies.
Seussical features choreography by David Ollington, music direction by Molly Jessup, set design by Gary Wichansky and costume design by Jennifer Myers-Ecton, all of who designed for the original production at The Coterie Theatre. Seattle-based Michael Wellborn and Chris R. Walker will contribute light and sound design, respectively.
By Misha Berson
The Seattle Times, October 1, 2005
It is rare indeed for the Seattle Children's Theatre, which often rustles up its own staged adaptations of popular children's literature, to tackle a Broadway musical.
But "Seussical," the splashy song-and-dance opener for SCT's 2005-2006 season, must have been an irresistible choice.
Talk about your built-in box-office pleaser: "Seussical" stars the Cat in the Hat, Horton the elephant and a slew of itty-bitty citizens known as the Whos — all characters hatched in the unique imagination of Dr. Seuss (aka the late writer-artist Theodor Geisel).
And it reworks popular parts of the whimsical canon of 44 Seuss storybooks, which have been been literary catnip for several generations of very young readers.
Yet it's been hard translating the books into stage and film attractions, without diminishing the freewheeling visual style, witty couplets and slyly subversive call to nonconformity that make the books so special.
"Seussical," for instance, has a thicker coating of Broadway brassiness and sugary slickness than the Seuss material needs, or warrants.
And the nose-thumbing Krazy Kat antics of the Cat in the Hat are rather jarring when paired with the gentle tale of how Horton helps the underdog Whos.
Still, this musical is a lot more upbeat and friendly than the nasty, cynical "Cat in the Hat" movie Hollywood turned out in 2003.
And the audience of wall-to-wall 5- and 6-year-olds watching a recent matinee of "Seussical" were absolutely transfixed by the vivacious performances and bright, color-mad look of SCT's production.
A vigorous cast under Jeff Church's direction gives its all in the many musical numbers that give the show its oomph.
As the Cat in the Hat, Daniel C. Dennis is a fleet-footed, genial rascal on a mission to give a young boy, JoJo (played at alternate performances by middle schoolers Elias James Higham and Joshua Froebe), a big adventure.
Though her hotsie-totsie vamping may fly over the towheads of the kindergarten set, Mayzie La Bird is portrayed with infectious glee and real vocal power by Billie Wildrick.
Also terrific is SCT newcomer Lakeetra Knowles. She belts out some of the jazzier selections in the peppy Lynn Ahrens-Stephen Flaherty score, which mingles standard show tunes with rap and R & B, and gracefully quotes "Green Eggs and Ham," "Horton Hatches the Egg" and other Seuss tomes.
And Auston James makes a guilelessly lovable Horton — even if, in his droopy, flannel-pajama-style outfit, he looks more like a deflated bunny than a portly elephant.
Otherwise, the costumes by Jennifer Myers-Ecton and whirligig sets by Gary Wichansky are delectable eye candy. And though the two-guy combo is far smaller than the pit band that came with a 2002 national tour of "Seussical," they keep the show bouncing right along.
Seussical – Review
By Maura Deering
www.GoCityKids.com, October 2005
The cast of Seattle Children's Theatre's Seussical belts out one delightful song after another which, along with the whimsical set, colorful costumes, and unflappable energy, brought the opening night audience to its feet.
Seussical tells the tale of Horton the Elephant, who finds a speck of dust - and hears faint voices coming from it. He discovers that it is the smallest planet in the universe, inhabited by tiny Whos. Unfortunately, no one else believes him, except Gertrude McFuzz (Kirsten Hopkins), who goes to great lengths to rescue Horton from hunters, the circus, and jail. She also finds the dust speck after it is snatched by mischievous monkeys (Greg Michael Allen, Louis Hobson, and Ian Lindsay) and lost in a field of clover. Everyone believes Horton in the end and Gertrude and Horton wind up the happy parents of an elephant bird.
The entire cast is fabulous: Daniel C. Dennis plays the Cat in the Hat with joyful silliness; 12-year-old Elias James Higham is JoJo and belts out songs with the best of them; Auston James (whom you may remember as the Snail in last year's Frog and Toad) is the sweet and loyal Horton; and Billie Wildrick struts her stuff as the flamboyant, irresponsible Mayzie La Bird.
Kids are riveted by the nonstop action, antics, and fun - and there's even a little subtle humor for parents - so don't miss this one!
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