OREM — It is rare that I get a chance to review the a different production of the same show in quick succession. But I have a ten-year-old daughter who loves the soundtrack of Seussical The Musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, so I had to jump at the opportunity to take her to see the production at the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre. The show is a musical representation of many of Dr. Seuss’s well known and well-loved stories. Most of the action surrounds Horton the Elephant (played by Kyle Baugh) as he tries to save the Whos in Whoville. Horton builds a friendship with the Whoville mayor’s son Jo Jo (played by Seth Sherman). Meanwhile, Gertrude McFuzz (played by Emily Bennett) attempts to get Horton to notice her. All of this is narrated by a lovable and mischievous Cat in the Hat, played by Eric Smith.
Although I have traveled all around the U.S. (and the world) seeing theatre, this was my first time at the SCERA Outdoor Theatre. I was impressed with the venue and found it an excellent place to take my little family to help them enjoy a production like this. The set design, by Cole McClure, was imaginative, colorful, and used the space of the stage well. Combined with that, the props, designed by Christy Norton, were very fun, and my daughters would exclaim as different items of color or whimsical ideas appeared on stage. One of the most imaginative scenes was the song “It’s Possible,” where Sherman as Jo Jo did an exquisite job of singing about the places his mind can go, while the cast used the costumes, props, and choreography and direction by Shawn M. Mortensen to illustrate the song to great effect.
One thing I can point out that struck me was how well Mortensen was able to direct such a large cast. It is nice to see a community come together to do a production, but often the larger casts can seem a bit messy and chaotic on stage. However, this was not the case with this production of Seussical. Each of the cast members seemed to have a good focus and understanding of their role and how to make the full production shine. I was also impressed by the inclusivity of the cast, from old to young to various levels of physical capability, everyone was given a part that was useful and enjoyable to watch.
Baugh was a fine Horton, and his lovely voice and affable nature was appeasing. I was also impressed with the chemistry between him, Sherman (as Jo Jo), and Bennett (as Gertrude). The song “Alone in the Universe” has always been a favorite of mine, and the actors’ voices had a perfect blend. As Bennett sang the “One Feather Tail,” I was impressed by her range of talent.
My older daughter said to mention that the Cat in the Hat (Smith), and Mayzie LaBird (played by Abbey Wood) as two of her favorite characters. Smith was very animated, much as one would expect the role to be, and that made him a crowd favorite. Wood has a very strong voice, and Mayzie has often been a role that I did not care for as much, but Wood was able to breathe new life into the character.
The overall quality of the SCERA production compares well to the others I have seen of Seussical, which range from a junior high to a fully professional theatre company. Costume designer Kelsey Seaver deserves a great deal of praise for the colorful costumes and the rather innovative and interesting wigs that were used to create a whimsical Seussian world. (Both of my kids told me that they wished they could have one.) Lighting and technical design, but Seth Mergist and Sarah Thornton, also added to the ambiance, which can be a challenge in an outdoor environment, especially as the natural lighting changes throughout the evening. Of course, as with most productions, the one improvement I always wish for would be a live orchestra, but I understand the cost prohibitive factors in play.
The best compliment I can pay is that for a child who has listened and dreamed of seeing this show for years, after it was over, my 10-year-old turned to me and said, “Mom that was better than I could have imagined!” It is nice to live in a community that has such a strong love of the arts and sees the importance of producing shows that can help young people find a love of live theatre.