OGDEN — The story of Seussical: the Musical (music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and book by both) is pulled from the timeless classic book “Horton Hears a Who”, which tells of the troubles of Horton the Elephant (Elton Dean) as he tries to save Who, the tiniest planet in the sky. As this minuscule planet floats by Horton, he hears a cry from this speck of dust, and vows to protect this tiny town, because after all, a person’s a person, no matter how small. As we follow the tale of Horton, we learn of Gertrude McFuzz (Brittney Salazar), the bird with a one-feather tail; of Jojo (Emma Scanlon), a thinker down in Whoville; and journey to all the wonderful places a ‘think’ can take you.
Director Charlene Adams had her hands full with a cast of 69, most of whom seemed to be under the age of 13. But she rose to the challenge and pulled off a show that incorporated family, fun, and was technically pleasing to watch. The cast at Beverly’s Terrace Plaza Playhouse put on a cute show and had some memorable moments. To be clear, this is a double-cast show. The night that I attended I saw the Thing 1 cast, which is important to note because most of the double casting was in the ensemble, and the ensemble definitely stole the show and brought the work together.
The ensemble’s harmonies were superb during all the group numbers. Their singing was especially enjoyable as the theatre’s layout allows cast members to be behind the audience, unseen, and surround them with singing at any moment. On a technical note, while I could hear any and all vocals from offstage, I was quite impressed that I did not hear talking or whispering from cast members. For a cast of mostly children, I applaud the discipline held by those young actors.
Ryan Paskins’s and Laura Jane Adams’s choreography of the large group numbers was crisp and in sync, and combined with the vocals at most times with great power. However, several moments were noticeably less rehearsed and confident, such as during “Here on Who,” where the harmonies fell apart for a bit and the performers were singing slightly faster than the track was playing.
Special mention should be made to the acrobatic young ladies during “The Circus McGurkus.” One of their own took an unexpected tumble, made an impressive recovery, and seamlessly slipped back into her spot on stage, smiling as big as ever, showing more dedication and restraint than many would. It is always wonderful to see a theatre community that is all inclusive of those wanting to participate in the arts, and even moreso to see those on stage who may not have been included before having a good time and singing their hearts out. The performance of Ben Kuculyn as one of the Little Cats was adorable and well-rehearsed, and lit up the stage, figuratively and literally.
While trying to maintain an overall positive review, because the show really was an enjoyable experience, there are some elements that deserve to be mentioned. Unfortunately as often can happen when dealing with a cast this large, priorities can be shifted, and attention neglected. In the case of this production, I felt that the attention of the director was taken from the main characters of the story, who seemed unsure of their directions and decision-making processes.
The Cat in the Hat, as played by Jason Scanlon, seemed under-developed in characterization. His jokes were well timed, and his interactions with others were infectiously fun, but the moments of solo performance were timid, and did not live up to the character he was when with others on stage. The relationship with Jojo was instantly entertaining, and scenes containing the playful friendship were a highlight to the night.
Dean’s Horton the Elephant was a loveable character that elicited hope for others and compassion towards those that can’t help themselves. However, the character portrayal fell short due to Dean’s vocal performance. The incorrect notes in most harmonies did not seem to be a lack of ability, but simply a lack of practice. Several songs, including “Alone in the Universe” and “Solla Sollew” were wonderful solo opportunities for Dean, but when joined by Emma Scanlon, the harmonies that Horton carried fell flat.
Brittney Salazar’s portrayal as Gertrude McFuzz had a simplicity to her character and a full dedication behind her decisions. During here scenes with Mayzie La Bird (Andrea Scanlon), I could sense the Gertrude’s admiration for her beautiful tail, and the array of emotions shown in “All for You” was as varied as it was intense. Salazar’s performance was contagiously enjoyable, and complemented the other performers.
Emma Scanlon’s performance as Jojo shined bright and long into the night. In the script, Jojo is the figurative glue that holds the story together, and Emma Scanlon lived up to the job. All of her relationships were fully developed and diverse. While having a fun time with the Cat, Jojo exercised her control over this character she created. One particularly stirring moment was at the end of “Green Eggs & Ham”, when Jojo made the declaration, “I think what I think, now get out of my way!” Without a fully developed sense of independence in the character, that line would have seemed hollow and tin. The effect, however, was quite the opposite; stirring both myself and my guest to believe that as long as Jojo was as always strong, as in that moment, she and the Cat could accomplish whatever ‘think’ they could think.
The wonderful adventure that Horton and Jojo take is one to be enjoyed by any with a taste for adventure and a ‘think’ in their head. If you are looking for a night of fun and want to leave with a catchy tune in your head, I highly recommend a night of Seuss at the Beverly’s Terrace Plaza Playhouse.