Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
The summer show presented yearly at La Comedia Dinner Theatre in Springboro, Ohio, is usually a family-friendly musical. The addition of Seussical as one of their options is a smart one, despite the show being so frequently produced in the area. The current production is a fun, efficient, and extremely well performed mounting which should see future returns to the dinner theater rotations in its current format.
Seussical is based on the works of Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) and combines many of the author's characters and stories into one through plotline. The Cat in the Hat, Horton the Elephant, JoJo, Gertrude McFuzz, and Mayzie LaBird are just a few of the many Seuss characters that populate this lively morality tale.
The book for the show is by songwriters Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, based on a concept they created with Monty Python alumnus Eric Idle. The characters are true to the original Seuss stories, and the themes presented (kindness, acceptance, self-esteem, fostering of imagination, faithfulness, etc.) are simple enough to be understood by children, yet universal enough to touch the hearts of even the most Grinch-like adults. The story never drags and allows for imaginative staging and interpretation.
Seussical's score, with lyrics by Ms. Ahrens and music by Mr. Flaherty, is first-rate. The duo provides a flavorful combination of various musical styles and catchy melodies with lyrics that sound as if Dr. Seuss wrote them himself (some of them are taken almost directly from the books, while others are brand new). This songwriting team, who were also responsible for Ragtime and Once On This Island, is one of the finest of their generation, and their work on Seussical shows it. Standout songs include "Oh, The Thinks You Can Think," "Alone in the Universe," "Notice Me Horton" and "How Lucky You Are."
This is one of the strongest overall casts at La Comedia in recent memory. Though young (many are college or high school students), these performers are skilled, committed, and provide splendid vocals throughout. Most praiseworthy is Christian Castro as The Cat In The Hat. Mr. Castro is a gifted physical comedian, impersonator, singer, acrobat and dancer. He fully throws himself into the role with deliciously devious behavior as instigator of much of the action and is hilarious mocking some of the characters. Impressive as well is Drew Helton as Horton The Elephant. Mr. Helton exudes the lovable, dependable, sad-sack nature of the role and sings excellently. Kari Grunberg is very endearing as the dorky, yet faithful bird Gertrude McFuzz, who longs to capture Horton's heart. Her strong singing, strong acting choices, and funny dancing are clear assets to the show. As young JoJo, Ben Kneblik sings and acts confidently. The entire cast brings talent and energy to this sincere tale.
Director Chris Beiser has infused splashes of theatrical magic and creativity, as well as a playful spirit into his staging of this piece. Mr. Beiser's choreography is brisk, fun and apt, and it incorporates blacklight effects into several numbers effectively.
The design elements for this production are just right for the material. Scenic Designer Gion DeFrancesco has created an amusing unit set which is an ode to the Cat's red and white hat and serves the piece well. The costumes by A.T. Jones are colorful and do a good job of communicating the animal personifications of the characters. The active and Seuss-like lighting by Geoffrey D. Fishburn is likewise an asset.
Seussical has become an often produced musical for numerous reasons. It brings well-known stories to audiences in a professionally crafted format. It is a family friendly piece and presents situations and lessons that are universal to all people. The lyrics "kind and powerful heart" from "Notice Me, Horton" appropriately describe the show as well, and audience members will be moved by its positive and uplifting messages. The talented cast, solid direction, and suitable design make this La Comedia presentation a satisfying one. Seussical continues through September 2, 2012. Tickets can be purchased by calling 1-800-677-9505 or visiting www.lacomedia.com.-- Scott Cain