WEST JORDAN — Seussical has been a favorite of mine since I first discovered it a little over 10 years ago. There’s something magical about seeing so many of my favorite Dr. Seuss books incorporated into a single plot. The main plot is centered around the books Horton Hears a Who and Horton Hatches an Egg, but there are references to at least 15 other stories by Theodor Geisel. Having seen the show several times and even performing in it, I was curious to see how West Jordan Theater Arts and director Michelle Groves would present Seussical.
One of the first things I ever notice about a show is the set. This set, designed by Michael Burgoyne, is full of color and looks just like a drawing out of a Dr. Seuss book. It provided a nice backdrop for the story that was about to ensue. The music, written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, makes up nearly the entire show. I could detect the efforts music director Heather Shelley took to make the music sound professional. Even though some of the soloists strained at some of the notes, the music was generally enjoyable and the vocal harmonies audible (an impressive feat for many choruses). Shelley’s work was best represented in the lullaby “Solla Sollew.”
I was generally a fan of the choreography by Elise Groves. It was basic, similar to the choreography I’ve seen in other productions of Seussical, and at times seemed constricted by the perception of a small stage. However, I thought it was appropriate to the needs of the music. Highlights included the imaginative “Havin’ a Hunch,” the vaudevillian “How Lucky You Are,” and the acrobatic dancing of the Wickersham Brothers (Samuel Chidi Ahanonu, Riley Groves, and Jonathan Vidal) throughout the show, especially in “Monkey Around.”
Scott Butler took on a tough role as the Cat in the Hat—a role that requires diversity, energy, and lots of personality. He did a fine job, yet I wanted to see him take on stronger personalities to match the different personas that the Cat mimics throughout the show. I loved Shelby Maughan’s portrayal of Horton the Elephant for most of the show, though I would love to see more emotion from him (especially at the end). Thomas Rowe played Jojo, and was absolutely excellent. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise to me, though, was MeriLynne Michaelis’s interpretation of Mrs. Mayor. She created an exciting, lovable, quirky mother from a character I’ve always overlooked as an afterthought to Mr. Mayor (David Pack), who was also very enjoyable in this production. In the end, my favorite performance was that of Kaydee Brown playing Gertrude McFuzz. From appearance to voice, mannerisms to personality, she was entrancing.
As I mentioned earlier, I have seen plenty of other production companies take on Seussical. In comparison, there are a lot of things that could be fine-tuned with this production. The musical was originally set to be performed at the Veridian Events Center in West Jordan, but had to instead move the production to West Jordan High School. I’m not sure how many aspects of the show were affected by the change in venue (lights, set, choreography). Still, one aspect that distracted me was the inconsistency of the microphones—a common problem in community theatre. Yet, there are also directions Michelle Groves took that the other productions missed. For example, until watching this production I admit I didn’t understand the irony behind the song “How Lucky You Are.” Just before intermission, at the height of conflict, the Cat in the Hat leads the cast in the number. As the chorus joined in, I noticed a look of pure cynicism and sarcasm on the faces of a few Whos I was watching. That’s when the real meaning behind the song clicked for me.
In the end, this show wasn’t enough to “wow” me. I enjoyed my evening, and am not sorry about going to the show. There were plenty of good things that kept me engaged. To the West Jordan Arts Council I say, “Oh the Places You’ll Go” with your fascinating production.