Fun in a box

Musical rendition of Seuss books is tops at Chico Cabaret

WHO’D HE HEAR? All the singing Dr. Seuess characters you could want are at Chico Cabaret. From left, the Cat (Nick Estep), Horton the elephant (Bryan Brophy), Gertrude McFuzz (Kyle Silliman-Smith) and Sour Kangaroo (Rebecca Yarbrough.

WHO’D HE HEAR? All the singing Dr. Seuess characters you could want are at Chico Cabaret. From left, the Cat (Nick Estep), Horton the elephant (Bryan Brophy), Gertrude McFuzz (Kyle Silliman-Smith) and Sour Kangaroo (Rebecca Yarbrough.

Photo By Tom Angel

Director Phil Ruttenburg saw Seussical, the musical based on the Dr. Seuss books—and was struck by the depth of the themes it addressed: personal integrity, ecological responsibility and foster-parenting, to name just three. Wrapped in a bright, pretty package of whimsy and humor, this show is irresistible. Add a peppy three-piece live band, flashy, playful choreography by Jose Romero, fanciful costumes, some very fine singing and acting and voilá: You’ve got everything you need for a great musical.

The stage at the Cabaret, which was designed by John Mich for the Cabaret’s wildly successful Rocky Horror Live Show, is a Y-shaped raised platform with an area behind upstage center for the band pit. A sort of cabaña-with-loft-on-top added above the band serves as the “nest” for a character called Mayzie la Bird (Allison Rich). Huge orange, pink and yellow “trees” flank the stage, looking like sherbet-flavored dust busters. The black floor is painted in Austin Powers-style swirls, with little clumps of “clover” made out of pink shower poofs growing in patches here and there. Even before the peppy three-piece band struck up a jazzy tune, we were transported completely into the Seussical world.

A trapdoor center stage creaked open, smoke spilling magically onto the set, and the Cat in the Hat’s famous oversized red-and-white striped hat rose like a submarine, pausing for a long moment before the entire Cat leaped onto the stage.

Played with comic brilliance by Nick Estep, the Cat is the nimble-footed, beautifully sung narrator of a story that follows Horton the Elephant (a soulful, noble Bryan Brophy). Horton, as we may remember, is famous because he hears a Who. The Who here is a boy named JoJo, played with natural ease and a perfectly pitched voice by Russell Rabut. We meet the rest of the Whos, who peer hopefully up through a sheer scrim upstage right. Mr. and Mrs. Mayor of the Whos, played by Douglas Anderson and Natalie Valencia, have some great comic moments and some lovely harmonies, when they sing “Here on Who,” telling of imminent war in the little Who world.

Enter the hilariously militant General Genghis Khan Schmidt, another Who, played with hollering precision by Loki Miller. Special kudos goes to Miller, who stepped into this part three days before the show opened, to replace an injured Jeff Dickenson.

JoJo is drafted with all the other Who kids into an army formed to fight a war between the “butter-side-uppers” vs. “those who like to eat their toast butter-side down.”

Of course, Horton’s response to the tiny cry for help from the speck of dust resting on a clover which is the Whos’ home is to become their champion. Horton vows with the grace of a hero to protect the fragile little people. He sings, tenderly, “I’ll just have to save them, that’s all. A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

Unfortunately, when he tries to share the news about the Whos, all Horton gets is ridicule from the other animals in the forest. Especially derisive are the Sour Kangaroo, sung with Aretha-like soul by Rebecca Yarbrough, the little Kangaroo (Lila Rich), and the acrobatic Wickersham Monkeys (Vanessa Ceccarelli, Jacob Samples and Kelsi Fossum-Trausch). The Monkeys laugh at Horton, steal his clover that houses the Whos, and race away with it.

In fact, the only sympathy Horton gets is from his neighbor, the lovely Gertrude McFuzz (Kyle Silliman-Smith), who comes on to sing a show-stopping number called “The One Feather Tail of Miss Gertrude McFuzz,” lamenting her modest derriere. Not only does Gertrude believe in Horton, she also has a crush on him, but he doesn’t seem to notice her … until she comes to his rescue, when it seems that everyone else has abandoned him.

Some of the funniest moments of the show come from Estep as the Cat, especially when he does Jim Carrey doing the Grinch. If flawless mimicry isn’t your cup o’ tea, come for the musical in Seussical, which is divine.