SANDY — I was excited about the opportunity to take my five-year-old with me to see Seussical the Musical directed by Dave Tinney at the Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy. This show is a script and a musical that I’ve had previous interaction with and very much enjoyed. My child and I prepped for the show by reading Dr. Seuss books and listening to the original Broadway soundtrack. I had high expectations that the HCT production would be a fun and amazing opportunity for my young child to experience and for me to enjoy as well. I was not disappointed.
Theodor Geissel wrote 46 books under the pen name of Dr. Seuss. Of those 46 books, nearly 20 are represented in Seussical the Musical with music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and book by Ahrens and Flaherty. The story primarily focuses on Dr. Seuss’s books, Horton Hears a Who and Horton Hatches an Egg, and is woven together by narrations from the Cat in the Hat. There is a variety of music from boy band styles to lullabies to Aretha Franklin and everything in between.
This script relies heavily upon a solid performer for Cat in the Hat, and Ryan Simmons definitely fits the bill. In this production, Cat in the Hat plays multiple characters, such as Dr. Drake and Vlad Vladikoff. Simmons is talented vocally and was able to employ different voices and singing styles for the various characters. Simmons’s high energy and ability to interact with the audience made him ideal for the role. Some of the ad lib/personalizing of the scenes seemed to last too long, and I was ready for the show to get moving again. The scene during the selling of Horton to the circus was one of those slow times. The gag was a good one, but it went a bit longer than I felt was necessary.
Horton the Elephant was played by Dustin Bolt. He was excellent at exemplifying the kind nature of Horton and had a solid voice for the role as well. I especially enjoyed listening to Bolt sing “Solla Sollew.” I also enjoyed how well Bolt and Ali Bennett as Gertrude McFuzz blended during the song, “Notice Me Horton.”
Speaking of Gertrude McFuzz, this bird was the perfect blend of sweet, awkward, and enthusiastic. Her voice was a good choice for the role, but her characterization was even better. I especially loved Gertrude’s interaction with Horton after singing “All For You.” Gertrude had just sung about going through all these struggles on Horton’s behalf, and then as she lay exhausted on the floor, she said it was no big deal. Oh the things individuals will do for those they love.
I was excited when I saw that Lucy Pasa was going to be playing Sour Kangaroo. I had seen her in a previous production with another company and knew that she was a solid singer. The Sour Kangaroo is patterned after the singer Aretha Franklin, and I was excited to see Pasa in this role. I was not disappointed, although I hope in future performances, Pasa ups the level of sass just a tad. I did enjoy how Pasa changed the voice up for when it was the young kangaroo.
JoJo was played by Grant Shumway. This young man is quite talented and did well in his performance. One of my favorite numbers that he performed was, “It’s Possible.” Shumway has an excellent voice and did well at giving JoJo a slightly tough edge.
There is too much to talk about involving the tech of this production. The costumes and set design were greatly enhanced by the light design. Another stand out in this production was the use of puppetry for the Whos and for that “It’s Possible” seen. And of course, the big show stopper for this production was the use of aerialist performers.
The costume design by Maryann Hill did well at alluding to the characters’ animalistic traits without actually making them animals. Horton wore an ear flap cap and a gray necktie to create his elephant ears and trunk. I liked that the necktie also slightly doubled as an elephant trunk puppet. By using a variety of red-and-white-striped accessories, Hill was able to create different personas for the Cat in the Hat.
Set design by Kacey Udy works well for theatre in the round and also for providing a variety of levels for the performers. I enjoyed the choice to represent the jungle of Nool using a jungle-gym-like structure that allowed for the performers to climb up and down, creating a more vertical performing space and bringing the performers closer to the higher seats.
The set and costume designs were enhanced by Michael Gray’s lighting design. This production relied heavily upon the light design to help tell the story in a variety of imagined locations. Lights were used, along with basic white ball pit balls, to create a variety of locales and props. This technique was especially helpful in creating the clover field and the universe during “Alone in the Universe.” Lighting effects are always some of the most magical parts of theater productions for young audience members. Gray’s light design certainly created that magic for my own five-year-old.
I found the choice to employ hand puppets in creating more Whos to be an interesting decision. At first, I wanted to be able to focus on the talents of each person being the voice for the puppets, particularly Mr. Mayor (Andy Hansen) and Mrs. Mayor (McKelle Shaw). They had great vocalizations and did well at bringing personality to their puppets. Overall, the puppetry added a fun layer to the production and helped to firmly establish at a glance who were the Whos.
A review of this production should not leave out the aerial choreography by Ramsi Nia Stoker and the aerial performers. I was aware that HCT was planning on using aerialists in this production, and I knew there were circus scenes involved with this production; I figured that’s where the aerials would come into play. I was correct about the circus scenes, but the aerialists were used even more than I had anticipated. I love the use of aerialists, but occasionally I was distracted from the main scene happening on stage because I wanted to watch what the aerialists were doing. This distraction was more of an issue in the beginning of the show, but eventually I was able to adapt so that I was able to enjoy both the action on stage and the action above stage. My favorite uses of the aerialists were during, “It’s Possible,” and, “All Alone in the Universe.” My five-year-old especially enjoyed them during the opening jungle scene and informed me that the aerialist role was the role she would want to play out of the whole production.
There’s so much more I could talk about with this production. The performers were superb, and the tech was well utilized to make this magical production. This show is a great production for audience members of all ages and is especially good for a date night out with your elementary age kids.