BLUFFDALE — Have you heard the story of Mrs. McCave who had 23 sons, and she named them all Dave? Well, onstage that kind of chaos was real, as there were 85 kids and just watching them I did not envy the adults in charge of this production, though it looked like a lot of fun for the kiddos. Seussical the Musical (with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty, and a book by both) is an enchanting musical based on various Dr. Seuss books, and Bluffdale Arts spared no moment of the show. Each scene was milked for all it was worth, and it seemed like the full auditorium consisted mostly of family and friends of the performers. For that reason, it seemed more like a school show or dance recital than a community theatre, but was fun to see nonetheless.
Seussical is mostly based on the two Horton books, where Horton the elephant hears voices on a speck of dust and tries his best to protect the speck from those who cannot hear the voices. He also is charged with sitting on an egg for the fickle and flighty Mayzie, and ends up becoming a circus attraction. Amidst all of this action, Horton’s love-struck neighbor, Gertrude McFuzz, follows him and tries to get him to notice her. Fun Seuss characters are spattered throughout the show, including Whos from Whoville, the Grinch, and the Cat in the Hat.
Ahrens and Flaherty have a strong script tying these stories together, except for the beginning of Act two, when some of the plot developments appeared suddenly and did not flow with the narrative. For example, the song “Having a Hunch” was an interesting idea and could have been a helpful teaching tool for kids (as many of Seuss’s books are), but instead had a strange transition into it, and was written like an unfinished thought. And when the parents sang Solla Sollew after they had “lost” their son, it was much too sudden and a very strange response, as I would have expected them to go on a quest to find him instead.
Kelsha and Eric Peterson‘s direction succeeded in getting a complex show on its feet, and I enjoyed how large groups of kids could move together in such harmony and rhythm. It helped a lot to have their dance moves coordinated so fluidly by choreographers Kerry and Melinda Severn and Kallie Curtis. I loved when the whole group of Whos had their arms up and switched them in unison, even the tiny kids. I also enjoyed the Speck Dancer (played by Sydney Aird) and her choreography. Additionally, using a real baby for the elephant bird was a strong choice from the directors, and it made the ending more surprising. Finally, I liked how the Petersons staged the kids mostly on the risers so I could see them clearly. However, during the circus scenes, the action on stage seemed more chaotic than it was supposed to be.
The Cat in the Hat was played excellently by Kerry Severn, and his superb dancing (and choreography) and humor enhanced the show. Ethan Marchant gave a fun and lively performance as The Boy/Jo Jo. Marchant has a pop-star voice, and he sounded great the whole time, astounding me with his vocal ability at such a young age. Eric Peterson was a great and loveable performer in the role of Horton. He kept the story going steadily throughout the evening and had a good stage presence. It was hard to coordinate so many young people, so I was impressed he did it so well as both a director and an actor. Peterson’s interactions with Marchant were so precious and moving, and I thoroughly enjoyed their scenes together. Finally, I also loved The Grinch (played by Matt Oldroyd), with his insanely low bass notes.
Kristi Pope was had great timing and inflections while playing Mayzie La Bird, and she was convincing in her role. Whitney Tonkinson played Gertrude McFuzz; I was concerned at first because vocally she seemed to struggle with a big role. But she won me over in the end with an endearing performance, such as when she threw herself against the stone wall of the proscenium stage in a fit of passion. She also had such a fun way of talking that fit her character perfectly.
Seussical the Musical was a lot of fun, but sometimes too much going on to be able to enjoy it fully. Bluffdale Arts aims to give as many people as possible an opportunity to perform, and that can result in some messy scenes. But I still enjoyed seeing the show and would be happy to see another show from this group. I admire the producers for instilling a love for performing in so many children and giving the community the chance to try out a new show.