OREM — Seussical, the musical by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, based on the works of Dr. Seuss has always seemed to me like classic middle school drama fare. As such, I did not expect to be wowed by Hale Center Theater Orem’s latest production of the zany musical. I was happily proved very wrong.

Director Jenny Barlow’s heartfelt Director’s Note in the program sets the tone for what the audience is about to experience. Her comments helped put me in the proper mindset for the whimsical production. She reminisces fondly about her experience directing at HCTO and her excitement about moving to their new Theater, The Ruth, in January 2025. Nostalgia for the current Theater aside, I am very much looking forward to a more spacious and comfortable theatergoing experience at The Ruth.

Entering the cramped, yet familiar and beloved space, everything felt more cattywampus than the Theater’s normal off-kilter feel. HCTO is an almost-in-the-round space with seats crammed, sometimes awkwardly in every nook and cranny. Thus, the North wall, whitewashed and lined with skewed picture frames, tilted clocks and a cockeyed wardrobe seem right at home with the set designed by Carter Thompson.

As the show begins and the entire cast pours onto the tiny stage for the first full ensemble dance number, I marvel at and wonder, yet again, how in the world they pull this off? How do they manage a full-bodied musical with a cast of at least 15, with full dance numbers, set pieces and costume changes galore in such a small space without falling into the laps of the front row? And yet, magically, somehow they do just that. Everything about this show is larger than life.

The opening montage is a feast for the eyes. There is so much going on in such a small space that it is difficult to take it all in, but as we settle in, the biggest visual impact are the costumes. Designed by Lexi Goldsberry and assisted by Ems Peterson-Porter, the costumes would steal the show in their excess if the rest of the production values weren’t just as extravagant. There are feathers, tulle, and explosions of color, texture and glitter throughout the lavish costumes. And yet, there is great subtlety in the costuming as well. Horton the elephant for example lacks ears and a trunk, yet his floppy trunk-like tie and saggy gray pants with thick ankle embellishments are unmistakably elephantine without needing to be literal. This subtlety carries throughout all the anthropomorphized characters from the birds to the monkeys to the kangaroo. This convention has a way of further humanizing these characters, making them more relatable.

HCTO ; Hale Orem ; Orem : Utah County : Seussical ; 2024

Seussical plays at HCTO through August 3 | Photo Credit: Suzy O Photography.

A special shout out is necessary to Wardrobe Supervisor Danielle Tanner and the army of dressers, wardrobe and wig crews listed in the program. I can’t recall ever seeing a production with so many costume and wig changes and in such rapid succession. I can only imagine what organized chaos must be taking place backstage as we watch costume after costume after costume (including a 40 foot bird’s tail) appear on stage.

And there are puppets, designed by Brienna Michaelis. I have always adored puppets and was therefore tickled to find a smattering of puppetry in this production as well. The baby kangaroo and baby elephant-bird puppets are particularly clever.

As is typical at HCTO, the cast is stellar. Initially Blake Barlow as the Cat in the Hat seems a bit understated to me, but as the show progresses, Barlow’s character, along with the entire production becomes ever more delightfully unhinged. Similarly, I found Wade Robert Johnson as Horton the Elephant initially underwhelming, but as he plods along, saying what he means 100%, Johnson’s sincerity and steadfast tenderness with his character is so touching as to nearly bring me to tears. Other stand outs are McKelle Shaw as Gertrude McFuzz, Kelly Pulver as Mayzie La Bird, Carson Smith Davies as General Genghis Kahn Schmitz, and an absolutely magnificent vocal performance by Lucy Pasa as the Sour Kangaroo.

The cast executes on Sayoko Knode Peterson’s tight choreography with skill. I am always amazed at what choreography is accomplished in this tiny space. The ensemble of Girl-Birds (Madeline Clifford, Grace Oborn, Hailey Bennett Sundwall) and Wickersham Brothers (Sitiveni “Boogie” Iongi, Colllin Larsen, Lucas Morley) made the strenuous dance numbers look effortless. Barlow’s stage direction is likewise creative and makes good use of the space. For example, the ensemble’s embodiment of both fish and water in a very creative take on McElligot’s Pool is stupendous, as is the blacklit glove choreography in Havin’ a Hunch.

The technical production values were strong. Lighting design by Ryan Fallis incorporates some fun moments such as a spotted lighting effect bathing the audience, pulling us into the action. The sound design by Cole McClure has some fun moments, especially with sound effects, but the microphone balance was off on opening night, resulting in some ear-splitting vocals at times. Hopefully this can be worked out as the run progresses. Additionally, the use of a track rather than live orchestra, is always a bit disappointing. Understandably, the current HCTO does not have space for live musicians, but hopefully in their new home, there will be more opportunity to tap into the vast well of talented local musicians and do some musicals with live orchestras.

The program contains some history of Dr. Seuss, written by Mark Fossen. In this history, he mentions that Seuss never led his stories with the message, because “kids can see a moral coming a mile off.” Kids and adults alike are put off by moralizing, so one of the brilliant aspects of Seussical is the subtle incorporation of the themes of acceptance and inclusion—that “people are people, no matter how small” and that fighting over how people butter their bread is absurd. Along with reminders keeping our promises and that taking time to think things through are important. Barlow’s director’s note comments on the production in relation to her own children and what she has tried to teach them. I think this is in fact the key take away of Seussical—indeed for those of us who grew up reading, being read to, or raised our children on Dr. Seuss, it’s pretty clear what he tried to teach all of us. That we should care less about what people look like, or how they choose to live their lives, and care more about people, strive to become the kind of person we want to be, and maybe lean into more whimsy in our own lives.

Seeing Seussical presented by adults takes the show to a whole new level of wackiness and the cast and team at HCTO go all in to create a uproariously entertaining and inspiring evening of pure silliness, perfect for the whole family.

SUESSICAL: The Musical plays through August 3 at Hale Center Theater Orem (225 W 400 North, Orem). Tickets are $24-65. For more information, visit https://www.haletheater.org/

orem; orem city ; orem cares ; care logo ; 2024

This review was supported by a generous grant from the Orem CARE program.