Journey to Whoville
A lively and colorful musical tribute to the world of Dr. Seuss
Dr. Seuss holds a fairly prominent position in our household. An audio CD of If I Ran the Zoo and Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book puts my 6-year-old to sleep each night. The movie version of Horton Hears a Who! made a deep philosophical impact on my 10-year-old. And the fantastic and wild illustrations from Happy Birthday to You! still haunt my dreams (in a totally good way).
But a musical? Does the world need two hours of singing and dancing in a Seuss-inspired universe? Can a hatted cat of dubious moral distinction successfully emcee a tale combining threads from How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, The Lorax, the aforementioned Horton and a little Green Eggs and Ham? And, is a person really a person, no matter how small?
To look at my sons’ faces as they sat transfixed throughout the entire production, the answer would be, oh yeah.
California Regional Theater’s production of Seussical the Musical under the direction of Bob Maness is as bright, colorful and zany as any of Dr. Seuss’s literary creations. Our toe-tapping, musical journey begins with a Whoville boy named JoJo (confidently voiced by the young AJ Sanseverino) finding a certain barber-pole striped hat, underneath which pops up a … cat. The Cat in the Hat (Brandon Morgan, in an amazingly convincing performance using only face paint and the aforementioned hat) narrates as trickster/puppet-master/devil’s advocate, commenting on events even as he stirs them up.
I won’t try to untangle all of the convoluted plot lines, but suffice it to say they stay true to the Seussian themes of thinking for and believing in yourself. We learn that JoJo is the son of the Mayor of Whoville (Shelby Martin, whose makeup, hair and facial expressions are pitch perfect). He, along with the ensemble of Whos (imagine those wobbling Weebles come to life in bright yellow Victorian dress) live on the tiniest planet in the universe, riding atop a speck floating through the air.
Horton (Joel Ibañez) is the elephant who hears their cries from their speck with his (ahem) elephantine ears and vows to protect this world, catching it on a pink puff of clover. But not everyone is convinced that he hears what he hears, and Horton and the Whos face danger from the McCarthy-esque Sour Kangaroo (Allison Parker, who belts out some fierce vocal mojo) and her sassy sidekick Young Kangaroo (super-sassy Mia Clarke) as well as a hip-hop band of monkeys known mysteriously as the Wickersham Brothers. Meanwhile, JoJo has his own metaphorical battle to fight, having been sent to a military-style boarding school by his parents for “thinking too many thinks.”
Other notable performances include the adorably nerdy Gertrude McFuzz (Rachel Worley), who hopes to attract Horton’s eye by enlarging her tail; Mayzie LaBird (Megan Shwartz), a brilliantly feathered bird with a golden voice who leaves her egg in Horton’s care; and the Bird Girls, as our fluffing and strutting avian Greek Chorus.
The intricate choreography arranged by Kate Reeves utilizes the space well and includes a must-see sequence involving glow-sticks. Kudos to Reeves and music director Livy Gomez for this no-holds-barred, singing-and-dancing-with-a-capital-M Musical backed by a live orchestra (that at times, unfortunately, drowned out the words of the actors). Stage design by Christopher Burkhardt was minimal but appropriately Seussical, with the requisite Truffula-type trees and neon colors.
Proceeds from the performances benefit Wings of Eagles, the Joseph Alvarez organization for seriously ill children, so if you’ve got brains in your head and feet in your shoes, get thee to Seussical. You really can’t lose.