|Grace Malloy (Jojo) and Ami Ericsson (Cat in the Hat), ensemble in background.|
By Tina Arth
It’s hard to imagine that anyone raised in, or raising a family in, this country could be unfamiliar with the amazing body of children’s lit by Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss). Horton the Elephant, the Grinch, the Cat in the Hat, Yertle the Turtle, Whoville, McElligot’s Pool, and a host of other people and places are firmly rooted in our consciousness, and Theatre In the Grove’s current offering of Seussical The Musical is a fine tribute to this legacy. Director Michelle Bahr, a remarkable production team, and 21 actors give everything they’ve got to bring playwrights Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens’ musical Seuss mash-up to the stage, and both kiddos and adults in the audience clearly applaud their efforts!
The musical debuted on Broadway in 2000, and quickly became a staple of child-friendly community theater. While there are characters and story lines from several Seuss books blended in, Seussical is driven by that most admirable of all Geisel’s creations, Horton the Elephant (Carl Dahlquist). Joining Horton in selling the show’s kid-friendly themes, including loyalty, compassion, acceptance, “don’t judge a book by its cover,” and the importance of imagination, are Jojo the Who (Grace Malloy) and Gertrude McFuzz (Karli Winters). Of course, no Seuss tribute would be complete without the Cat in the Hat (Ami Ericson), who fills the role of narrator with the spirit of unbridled mischief and uniquely amoral perkiness of this most troublesome feline.
Even before the show begins we know we are somewhere special - the ubiquitous director’s welcome is delivered (in clever rhyme, of course) by the Whoville Mayor (Kraig Williams) and his wife (Holly Farmer). After a lively all-cast opening number, the show quickly turns to Dahlquist, who is alternately heartbreaking and inspiring as the most faithful of elephants – shy, brave, persistent, and of course “faithful, 100%.” When only he believes in Whoville, Horton is taunted mercilessly by his neighbors, especially the deliciously mean Sour Kangaroo and her daughter, Young Kangaroo, played with evil glee by Wendy Bax and Mylie Winters. There is a constant struggle between Dahlquist, Malloy, and Karli Winters to see who will steal the show – Dahlquist with his soulful sincerity, Malloy with her spunky intelligence and unstoppable voice (that girl can sing!), and Winters with her gradual transition from love-struck nerd to flaming, iron-willed advocate for her beloved Horton. In the end, there’s no need to choose – each shines alone, and together they are simply brilliant. The show has lots of fun songs, few truly memorable, with the exception of Dahlquist and Malloy’s “Alone in the Universe” – an anthem to imagination and friendship the wraps up the stories’ key themes in four minutes of touching connection.
Nearly every cast member has at least one moment – Jeananne Kelsey’s lovely en pointe ballet solo, the flighty (no pun intended) and self-absorbed Mayzie LaBird (Shannon Jones), Mylie Winters’ agile acrobatics, the scene-stealing singing, dancing and sneering Wickersham Brothers’ (Luella Harrelson, Kada and Kassie Swizter) – just to name a few. Maille O’Brien and Tami Malloy’s costumes are vivid – true to the bright primary colors of the books, and carefully color-coded to the characters’ groupings. The orchestra, conducted by Stephanie Landtiser, is a nice touch – providing solid, but never overwhelming accompaniment and some truly ear-catching sound effects. Special recognition is due James Grimes, Ward Ramsdell, Anne Kennedy, and Abbi Kinzinger – the interplay between Grimes’ wonderful set and the others’ lighting creates some real magic – the evening would have been worth my time just for the McElligot’s Pool design.
Of course, this is a children’s show – much like a first trip to Disneyland, it will be best appreciated if you take along a couple of wide-eyed pre-teens who can share their sense of wonder with their more jaded elders. There’s only one more weekend to go, so buy your tickets now!
Seussical the Musical plays at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove through October 9th with performances at 7:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays and matinees at 2:30 pm on Sundays.