LOGAN — Just under two decades ago, I spent a lot of evenings watching second run movies at the Utah Theater on Center Street in Logan because it was perfect for a poor college students budget. When I learned that the Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre had renovated the old theater to house stage productions, I was very excited to attend the new production of Seussical and see what they had done with the old theater. The renovation does not disappoint; from the lighting fixtures to the chairs and the stage, the details are precise and the atmosphere inviting.
UFO&MT is currently running several shows as part of their summer festival, and among them at the Utah Theater is Seussical: The Musical by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, based upon the works of the famous Dr. Seuss. The show is a wonderful compilation of children’s favorites, from the Cat in the Hat (played by Stefan Espinosa), to Horton the Elephant (played by Lee Daily), the Whos in Whoville, and many other beloved characters.
There is a lot of excellent things to say about this production directed by Vanessa Ballam. In a show that is meant to awaken a magical, nonsensical world, the costumes and set can be a crowning element if done well. Set designer Anne M. Benson and costume designer Phillip R. Lowe were quite aware of this, and the colors, movement of stage elements, and design all combined to create the ability for the audience to feel transformed into the world of Dr. Seuss. Additionally, makeup and wig designer Yancey Quick deserves praise for the capability to add to the same ambiance and magic.
An interesting choice in casting for this production was the role of JoJo, played by Chloe Rose Allen. This marks the first time I have seen the role played by a young woman instead of a young man. Yet, Allen was one of the best actors I have seen in the role, and I enjoyed the duet between her and Daily as Horton, “Alone in the Universe,” quite a bit. Gertrude McFuzz, played by Olivia Yokers, is a very fun character with some interesting development that Yokers excelled at bringing to live. Additionally, Yokers has a very beautiful voice that was simply a joy to listen to. Another character that was brought to life well was the Sour Kangaroo played by Jazmine Olwalia. Her costume and make up may have been my favorite of the production, and from her first song “Biggest Blame Fool,” I enjoyed the humor and spunk Olwalia brought to the role.
Choreography by Lauren Camp was excellent, most notably because Camp varied the choreography and ensured that the dance steps matched the different story lines, from the Whos to Mayzie (played by Jessica Gruver). This allowed the dancing to be an avenue for storytelling as well.
One thing that felt like a stark and disappointing contrast to the rest of the production was the choice to use canned music, rather than a live band or orchestra. I do not know if the producers felt that the venue could not house an orchestra, or if they felt that because this was a show geared towards children that an orchestra was unnecessary, but the omission was noticed and brought down the caliber of the show. While community theatres and school productions often have need of using canned music, a festival as well known as UFO&MT should us live musicians to give the show a more lively feel. It is also important with professional production aimed at children to include live music as a part of the full theatrical experience.
Still, UFO&MT’s production of Seussical captures the magic of the stories of Dr. Seuss and teaches a good moral about accepting one another. This production is a good one to introduce children to the magic of bringing stories to life on stage.