Some dozen or more years ago, when we were visiting family, we asked one of our nephews how school went. He grumbled a typical grammar school age line about “dumb”, “boring”, “did nothing”, etc. He expressed particular annoyance at his homework assignment: to write a one page essay on his favorite Dr. Seuss story. When he showed us his essay, completed without cajoling, I read something like this: “I do not like Dr. Suess. I like Edjar Allen Poe…” He then outlined, correctly, Poe’s tale of the Tell Tale Heart. He has grown from a precocious child to a precocious adult. I suspect that he would have balked at attended a musical about Dr. Suess stories. Good thing he lives on the West Coast.
When we read that the Mccoy’s Grand Theatre would be staging “Seussical the Muscial”, I will admit, I thought, “Cute children’s show, reciting best known Dr. Seuss poems”. I calculated that we could slips this between dinner, milking goats, and dessert. Was I wrong!? Fortunately, the goats would wait to be milked and we could skip dessert. Yes, the show does follow the storyline of several Dr. Seuss books, but with a menu of songs and dance from ballads to salsa for a full course meal of entertainment. I recognized the tales of “The Cat in the Hat”, “Horton Hears a Who”, “Green Eggs and Ham”, “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”, and “Places I’ll Go”. The crew and cast of “Seussical” have put the “Grand” into the McCoy again.
The crew has outdone themselves with this production. Director (Betty Stickley) has pulled together a stageful of talent from the lead actors to the ensemble, which switches from jungle creatures to the Whos of Whoseville to circus performers to Hunches and several other troupes. Cally Curtis and the set construction crew have created a curving, multilevel stage all painted in those Seussian rainbow sherbert tones. They have cleverly used quickly placed and removed stage pieces and rolling scaffolding to represent Mr. and Mrs. Mayor’s (of Whoseville) home and the tree which Mayzie La Bird pawns off to Horton for sitting on her egg. These quick scene changes helped to keep up with the energy of the music and cast. The costume and props corps (sorry, too many to name you all) must have spent the year looking at those zaney Dr. Suess pictures to dream up all those colorful costumes, and then finding or making all sorts of animals, birds, fishes, and Whoseville outfits (melding 1950’s garments with 1960’s flowers on them). All of these visual images on stages moves constantly for the two hour show, with Missy Shockey’s choreography keeping this large group moving.
The Cat in the Hat (Jacob Smith) introduces and guides the show, much they way that Dr. Suess style poems bring you into and spin you around the yarns. Smith recites his heavily metered and rhyming lines while clowning with his body in equally expressive movements. Though just one of many side jokes, he make great use of his mime skill while immitating Fat Waller playing the piano for a bluesy stride style song as Mayzie La Bird (Sonya Mowery) laments how much she wants a vacation from sitting in the tree on her egg.
The core story line is that of Horton the Elephant (Blake Shockey) who hears a Who and JoJo (Lauren Gresham) the Who who thinks and dreams too much. Horton’s bigness and JoJo’s tininess are a great contrast and bond. Both have the most expressive eyes, which bring you right into their worlds, which everyone else criticizes and ridicules them for imagining. Shockey’s and Gresham’s ability to keep their characters real and full prevents us from slipping into a sing-songy caricature. This sets the stage for their duet, “Alone In The Universe”, which taps into our universal desire to be acknowledged and loved.
This theme occurs throughout the show. All the Whos in Whoseville also long to be noticed on the smallest of planets on a speck of dust. Mr. Mayor (Roger Wilcoxen) and Mrs. Mayor (Elsie Ward) pull off a wonderful Gilbert and Sullivan style of leadership. While stylized, we do not miss their sense of responsibility for their village and concern for their son, who they fear thinks too much.
Another expression of the theme of being acknowledged comes from the chorus of birds and Gertrude McFuzz (Cati Smith). The Bird Girles (Kirsten Barr, Katie Richardson, Heather Thorne) bring a vuluptuousness of color, feathers, and flying probably not seen on the Mccoy’s stage before. Mowery’s Mayzie La Bird steams up the hall with her song about her tail feathers. This is a great contrast to Smith’s Getrude lamenting her sing tail feather and desire to be noticed by Horton. Smith’s voice is fuller and carries a wider range of colors from prior productions. Her ability to be present on stage, even while portraying a bird who does not believe that it’s object of desire sees her tiney hiney feather, is a delight to watch. Oh, and when she grows more tail feathers, we were nearly rolling in the ailses.
I hate to run out of space to name all the other fabulous performers and the images that they brought to the stage: Taylor Stickley’s kangaroo that sang like Aretha Franklin, The Wickersams (strutting like the Jets in “Westside Story”), General Gengus Kahn Schmitz (more Gilbert and Sullivan military characters from “Pirates of Penzances”), and all those wonderful ensemble groups of children, adolescents, and adults. We hope to see them in future productions. This progression from stage exposure, to developing talent, to stepping into larger roles, is part of what we enjoy about community theatre. The crew and cast put unknown hours and energy into bringing these productions to us. What was additionally spectacular was the full house of grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, and children on a Saturday evening when the carnival was going on just down the street.
Had our nephew pulled himself away from his video games and macabre reading to join us for the evening, he might have been surprised that the character whom he resembles the most is Horton. Behind all his bravado of knights in Fable 2, chasing after fortune and lopping off heads of goblins, etc., he is one of the most compassionate young men we know. We have seen him spend time with children, protecting them just as Horton looks after the Whos in Whoseville, fending to the ridicule and taunting of other. May he discover this and notice Gertrude in equal measure.