Cathy Rigby soars again, both literally and figuratively, alongside some of Dr. Seuss’s most iconic characters in 3-D Theatricals’ crowd-captivating revival of Ahrens & Flaherty’s Seussical The Musical, a delightfully nostalgic, infectiously tuneful treat for audiences of all ages.
With hardly a soul who hasn’t read (or had read to them) Dr. Seuss classics like The Cat In The Hat, Horton Hears A Who, or Yertle The Turtle, it’s no wonder that the good doctor eventually made it to Broadway some sixty-three years after his 1937 literary debut.
Seussical The Musical’s book (by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty) takes most of its multiple plot threads from a trio of classic Dr. Seuss tales, then adds to them over two dozen of the Ragtime-Once On This Island-Rocky The Musical songwriting team’s catchiest confections.
The opening number (“Oh The Thinks You Can Think”), led by none other than Broadway’s Peter Pan as a rafters-high-flying Cat In A Hat, sets up the show’s lead characters.
They are a) “an elephant up in a tree” (Matthew Downs as Horton), b) “a person too tiny to see” (Grant Westcott as JoJo Who), c) “a bird with a one-feather tail” (Melanie Mockobey as Gertrude McFuzz),
d) “a bird who flies off on a spree” (Victoria Matlock as Mayzie La Bird), e) “a kangaroo sour as can be” (Amber J. Snead as Sour Kangaroo), and f) “a general crazy for war” (Gregory North as General Genghis Khan Schmitz).
As the show progresses, Horton not only hears a Who (and promises to protect the inhabitants of the smallest planet in the universe) but also hatches the egg as a favor to the jilted Mayzie, off for a vacation in Palm Beach. JoJo, the boy whose “thinks” have aroused the ire of his parents and teachers, is sent off to military school and eventually to a war fought between those who eat their bread butter-side-up and those who eat it butter-side-down. Gertrude, who fears that her single pathetic tail feather is the reason that Horton has never noticed her, seeks medical help from a doctor who looks just like The Cat In The Hat. Horton is captured by hunters with dastardly plans on their minds. And that’s just Act One!
Like Theodor Seuss Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) himself did, Seussical The Musical manages to sneak in some pro-tolerance, pro-peace, and pro-environmental protection messages likely to provide plenty of food for parent-child discussion (or adult-to-adult talk as well). Take for instance Horton’s efforts to protect the clover that The Whos call home simply because “a person’s a person no matter how small,” or a butter-side-up vs. butter-side-down conflict that illustrates the absurdities of war as effectively as any has before or since.
Above all, however, Seussical is two-and-a-half hours of musical enchantment. Yes, kids under five will likely find it a bit of a long stretch (so leave home any tots still in the antsy, chatty stage), but from kindergarten up, there is simply no one too young or too old for Seussical’s magical blend of humor, song, and dance.
Original Broadway Cast member David Engel proves an ideal choice to direct and choreograph* this most unique of Seussical revivals, one which blends the best of the Broadway original and its National Tour revisions. (“The Grinch Carved the Roast Beast” is gone, but The Cat In The Hat and JoJo’s “A Day For The Cat In The Hat” has been restored.)
Triple-Threat Performance Of The Year Scenie winner Rigby made The Cat In The Hat her own when she took over for its (male) originator during the musical’s last two months on Broadway, then went on to originate the role in Seussical’s First National Tour, and anyone seeing Broadway’s Peter Pan in the sassy feline’s signature red-and-white striped chapeau may well find him or herself wondering how anyone other than the Olympic silver medalist could have played the role.
Not only does Rigby’s Cat narrate the tale, stand in for numerous characters (including Doctor Dake and a talk show host with Sally Jessy Raphael’s red-rimmed specs), and interact hilariously with the audience, her several show-stopping numbers (among them the terrifically sung “How Lucky You Are” and “Havin’ A Hunch”) feature more flying—and more in-the-air somersaults—than anyone has done since … well since Rigby’s most recent Peter Pan stint. Simply put, you won’t see a showier display of star power till Peter once again tours with its ageless star taking flight.
3-D Theatricals couldn’t have found a less child-actorish (and therefore more utterly winning child actor) than eight-year-old Wescott, whose JoJo grabs your heart and never lets go of it in addition to showing off the vocal chops of a performer many times his age.
Horton The Elephant’s “Alone In The Universe” and “Solla Sollew” (two of the show’s loveliest ballads) beg for a stronger singer than Downs to reach full impact, however I found myself forgiving the Texas native’s only so-so vocals given the irresistible heart he brings to the egg-sitting pachyderm.
Mockobey couldn’t be more adorably gawky, nor warble more gorgeously, than she is/does as Gertrude McFuzz, whose it’s-all-about-me avian rival, Mayzie La Bird, is brought to sensational life by Matlock, Broadway’s newest, most newsworthy New York-to-L.A. transfer.
Big-voiced Snead gives Aretha a run for her money as Sour Kangaroo, particularly since Ahrens and Flaherty have inserted snippets of Miss Franklin’s song catalog into her “Biggest Blame Fool” and “The People Versus Horton the Elephant.” North is blustery perfection as war-crazy General Genghis Khan Schmitz, and James Campbell and Tracy Rowe Mutz couldn’t make for a more delightful Mayor of Whoville and Mrs. Mayor.
Seussical The Musical has its very own girl group, the Bird Girls (Brittany Rose Hammond, Donna Louden, and Adrianna Rose Lyons) and boy band, The Wickersham Brothers (dance captain Gary Brintz, Brandon Burks, and Daniel Dawson), six fabulous performers who could teach those Dream Girls or One Direction boys a lesson in show biz pizzazz.
Other famous Dr. Seuss characters who make brief appearances are Yertle The Turtle (Richie Ferris), judge at Horton’s trial, and the Grinch (Michael Cavinder) of Christmas-stealing fame, both performers every bit as terrific as their fellow ensemble members Kathleen Borrelli (Cindy Lou Who), Justin Goei (Vlad Vladikoff), April Jo Henry, Natalie Iscovich, Bren Thor Johnson, Kirk Schuyler Lawson, Bear Manescalchi, Julie Morgentaler, Jonathan Sangster, and Momoko Sugai (Marshal Of The Court).
A previously reviewed production of Seussical The Musical had me opining that “the huge cast of characters makes it a bit difficult to become emotionally invested in any one in particular,” something I found not at all true this time round, director and performers letting us see and feel each character’s imperfect but oh-so human heart (even if that human heart belongs to an elephant, bird, or Who).
Choreographer Engel and his triple-threat cast give us one show-stopping production number after another, including the most hand-tastic display of glove-ography (or glove-liest display of hand-ography) I’ve ever seen on a black-lit stage.
Backing up performers are musical director/conductor Allen Everman and 3-D’s Broadway-caliber orchestra, musicians provided by Los Angeles Musicians Collective, with orchestrations by William David Brown.
Everything about this 3-D Theatrical production is Grade A, from Music Theatre Wichita’s Seusssational sets (designed by J Branson) and costumes (designed by George Bacon) to Gretchen Morales & Melanie Caveness’s equally Seusspendous properties to Jean-Yves Tessier’s lighting design to Cliff & Kat Senior’s wigs to Julie Ferrin’s sound design to Paul Rubin’s aerial choreography (and it’s not just Rigby who flies at Plummer Auditorium).
Donna R. Parsons is stage manager. Terry Hanrahan is assistant stage manager. Jene Roach is technical director. Costumes are coordinated by (and some additional ones designed by) Kaszandra A. Liput.
Theodor Seuss Geisel probably never imagined the day that so many of his creations—including an elephant who hatches an egg, a boy with a head full of “thinks,” and a cat (in a hat)—would end up sharing a stage together.
Though Dr. Seuss didn’t make it to the year 2000 when Seussical The Musical made its Broadway debut, I’m guessing that somewhere up in Green Eggs And Ham heaven, he is smiling down on the musical theater magic being made down Fullerton way.
*based on Kathleen Marshall’s original Broadway staging
Plummer Auditorium, 210 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton.
February 8, 2015
Photos: Isaac James Creative