A Slimmed Down Seussical
Also see David's review of Once On This Island
What mainly works in terms of excisions is the elimination of "The Great Butter Battle" and "A Day for the Cat in The Hat." The other fine Ahrens and Flaherty songs are mostly still present, albeit often in truncated form, as the show focuses in on the Horton sagas derived from the Dr. Seuss classics "Horton Hears A Who" and "Horton Hatches An Egg." The cast is also pared down dramatically to a dozen extremely hard-working actors. This does make the population on Who seem rather tiny, even for that tiny place. In fact at times it seems as though Jo-Jo, his Dad the Mayor, and his Mom are the entire citizenry of Who.
While most of the familiar Seuss characters are cast very well, there is one odd exception. The talented Auston James is totally at sea in the pivotal role of Horton the Elephant. James does zany very well, as witness his splendid Snail in SCT's A Year With Frog and Toad, but he isn't remotely elephant-like in physique (nor padded to be) and Horton's trademark cuddliness isn't James' strong suit. The actor also seemed ill at ease vocally with Horton's songs, especially in the show's most tender and vocally expressive number, "Alone in the Universe."
The notoriously hard to cast role of the Cat in the Hat is played with aplomb and abandon by Daniel C. Dennis, who easily won the hearts of the youngest audience members with his effortless slapstick and agile movement. Kirsten Hopkins is endearing and comic as Horton's would-be love interest, the tail feather challenged Gertrude McFuzz, and her "Notice Me, Horton" and "All for You" are high points of the show. Equally outstanding as the brassy and self-involved Mayzie LaBird is the versatile Billie Wildrick, who camps and vamps up a storm in the role, and sizzles on "Amazing Mayzie." Lakeetra Knowles is a sassy and saucy Sour Kangaroo fronting the "Biggest Blame Fool" number, and Elias James Higham is endearing and non-cutesy as Jojo. Greg Michael Allen and Bhama Roget bring a zany panache to their roles as Mr. and Mrs. Mayor, and in a rare ensemble role, Louis Hobson scampishly cavorts with Allen and Ian Lindsay as the Wickersham Brothers in "Monkeying Around," a number that actually plays better than it did on Broadway, thanks to choreographer David Ollington.
The Seuss illustrations come wondrously to life in Gary Wichansky's eye-poppingly colorful and creative scenic design, and many of Jennifer Myers Ecton's costumes delight as well, save the very oddly designed Horton suit (did somebody have it in for Horton or what?). Molly Jessup's musical direction is impeccable, and the singers are ably served by David Duvall on the piano and Dave Pascall on bass and percussion. It was a great choice to have live musicians on this show, as pre-recorded tracks have marred prior SCT musicals.
Based on the opening night audience response, I think SCT's Seussical will be one of their more successful efforts, thanks to the great, underrated Ahrens and Flaherty score and the genius of Theodor (Dr. Seuss) Geisel.
Seussical runs through November 18 at Seattle Children's Theatre, 201 Thomas Street in Seattle Center. For more information visit www.sct.org.
Photo: Chris Bennion