Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Based on the works of Dr. Seuss, Seussical mixes many of the author's characters and stories into a single story. 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 magical world.
The show's book by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime, Once on This Island) is based on a concept they created in collaboration with Monty Python's Eric Idle. The show presents numerous themes such as kindness, acceptance, self-esteem, fostering of imagination, and faithfulness which have universal appeal and retain the tone of the original stories. Quite a lot happens in this telling, but it's told clearly and the book has a strong balance of fun and heart.
The score, with lyrics by Ms. Ahrens and music by Mr. Flaherty (a CCM grad), is a flavorful combination of various musical styles and catchy melodies with lyrics that sound as if Dr. Seuss wrote them himself. Standout songs include the opening "Oh, The Thinks You Can Think," "Alone in the Universe" (a duet for JoJo and Horton), "Notice Me, Horton" (a soft, plaintive love song for Gertrude), and "How Lucky You Are." Seussical also contains one of the best exit music / bows songs ever written, in "Green Eggs and Ham."
Director/choreographer Vince DeGeorge brings a wholly fresh perspective to the piece, delicately employing simple storytelling while also infusing bits of innovation throughout. There's also very effective use of a turntable, a trap door, and props. The dances and movement are off-kilter in a manner befitting Seuss stories, with eccentric, angular moves. Student Christopher Kelley serves as assistant director/choreographer. Luke Flood leads a great sounding 18-piece orchestra.
As The Cat in the Hat, Kevin Chlapecka is playful and mischievous, and demonstrates versatility in his various antics and characterizations. Donelvan Thigpen is spunky and inquisitive as JoJo, who gets pulled into the story by the Cat. Frankie Thams embodies Horton The Elephant's tender kindheartedness and devotion, and he sings beautifully. Emily Royer portrays Gertrude without the hyper-sweetness usually associated with the role, but instead with a determined awkwardness while still being sufficiently kind, and she's a fine vocalist.
Bryn Purvis is a more subdued Mayzie LaBird than usually seen, but shows off plenty of talent in her performance. Derek Kastner and Marissa Hecker bring a kooky Willy Wonka sensibility to Mr. and Mrs. Mayor, and Jenny Mollet supplies powerhouse vocals and the appropriate level of sass as the Sour Kangaroo.
The designs for this production differ from most, which try to copy the look of the Seuss books. Here, the look and feel of the set and costumes is uniquely original, and quite stunning. Mark Halpin's scenic design includes a round cut out in at the back of the theater, and a set of hanging spheres. The spheres are sometimes lit to appear as planets, which is apt, given that the action goes back in forth between two worlds and a primary song is "Alone in the Universe." There's a creative ode to another Seuss story in a primary set piece, and two sets of bleachers and the aforementioned turntable are used inventively. The costumes by Dean Mogle are breathtaking, varied and interesting. The lighting by Erik McCandless comes in many shapes and colors, and captures the distinctive feel of the piece. At the performance attended, there were a few sound issues, both microphone and balance problems.
CCM's mounting of Seussical is truly one of a kind, and provides a new look at an often produced show. The story of love, loyalty, sacrifice and caring still comes through clearly in this new approach, and the program continues to showcase its talented pre-professional performers. The direction, design and dances are noteworthy and will make this production one to remember for some time.
Seussical continues at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music through October 29, 2017. For more information, visit www.ccm.uc.edu.