A Very Fine Review of SEUSSICAL THE MUSICAL from Charlie Bowles of The Column by John Garcia


SEUSSICAL THE MUSICAL plays one more weekend at PlazaCo – and if you haven’t had a chance to see the most colorful show of the summer, there’s still time. Read on for a great review of the show from Charlie Bowles of The Column by John Garcia and then call 817-202-0600 or visit www.plaza-theatre.com to reserve your seats.


___________________SEUSSICAL THE MUSICAL_____________________

by Charlie Bowles of The Column by John Garcia

Oh the things you can think and the things you can see When you go down to Cleburne, down to Plaza TC. But hurry. Oh hurry! Only one weekend more. For after one weekend, this story will soar.

There’s Horton and JoJo and Sour Kangaroo. There’s Mayzie and Gertrude and Vlad Vladikoff too. The Whos down in Whoville are in a terrible stew, But Mr. Mayor and the Missus don’t know what to do. Maybe Horton and JoJo can save this small clover. Who knows? The Cat will tell us when it’s over.

Yes, it‘s a requirement in the Reviewer’s Handbook that, “when reviewing Dr. Seuss, the reviewer must resort to Seuss-Speak at least once.” So, having fulfilled my responsibility, we shall now return to normal language.

Seussical the Musical is basically “Horton Hears a Who” for the live stage, with a bit of “Horton Hatches the Egg”, “The One Feather Tail of Gertrude McFuzz”, and pieces of several other stories thrown in for interest. It’s a musical that theaters use as a platform for young actors of all levels, and it plays perfectly for delighted children. But make no mistake – it’s a musical for adults as well. It enjoyed 232 performances on Broadway, off-Broadway, two U.S. tours and a West End run.

Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty crafted a tight book and score, blending the themes of Dr. Seuss and his favorite language-isms with fantastically fun music to tell the tale. Combine this with a variety of creative scenic designs and a costume designer’s dream, plus a few good singers to provide wonderful entertainment for the whole family, and that’s exactly what you’ll get at Plaza Theatre Company in downtown Cleburne.

Seussical was directed by Tina and Tabitha Barrus, though this show is a complete Barrus family collaboration, including Cameron Barrus’ light design, Tina Barrus’ costumes, along with Rachel Bond, and JaceSon Barrus’ set design. Lighting made the set bright and colorful, but also included moving projections on the floor that showed a Seussical logo picture, simulated the Jungle of Nool pool and gave us some other images. There was an effect using a scrim in the corner which allowed the Whoville ensemble to show the damage while their clover was tossed around by the Wickershams out on the floor.

The set wasn’t complicated; a painted floor, wall murals around the audience, and a few set pieces rolling on and off at times. Actually, the stage needed to be empty because the cast was huge! Seussical is a big ensemble piece, one of the things that makes it fun. Lots of kids and voices, colorful costumes and amazing hairpieces fill the stage. It’s like a Barnum & Bailey curtain call. Aside from the nineteen named characters, there are twenty-two members that make up the Jungle of Nool and Who ensembles. And PTC completed a recent summer camp with twenty-four students invited to be in the show, half in each performance. So, at any time, the audience might see forty to fifty actors on stage. That’s a lot of color and voices. With Seussical’s big ensemble numbers, there was a gigantic wall of sound.

Sound design was by G. Aaron Siler. Backing music came from tracks and the balance between voices and music was perfect. I’m not sure why they needed head mics at all, given the cast size and volumes of songs. It created a few issues when a solo was not turned on at the start of a song. But overall the mix between mic’d singers and the ensemble was well balanced.

The usual collection of Seussian props was found by Stacey Greenawalt and Josh Garner. Horns and swords and fish and tails – it was a smorgasbord. They made a neat rolling tree for Mayzie La Bird which Horton then used while protecting her egg. This could be rolled around and used as Horton was escorted around the world during his circus tour. The Cat in the Hat used many props in all his guises, most notably the Hat.

Tabitha Barrus was also the Music Director and Kelly Nickell got the nod as Choreographer. Both were obviously daunting tasks, as at times the cast filled every inch of the stage floor. Getting them to move with purpose and sing together as one was an accomplishment. The dance numbers were a unified pattern of movement and the ensemble orchestrations were harmonious music that filled the air. You couldn’t help but get a huge energy boost from the show.

The story, of course, is about Horton, Gertrude and JoJo, with his “thinks” that started this story. Each has a lesson to learn about themselves and together they teach everyone else some valuable lessons as well.

Horton was played by Brian Lawson. With a very impressionistic costume of a hat with long “ears” and long tie for a trunk, we knew who he was by sight. Horton is a mild, meek, but loyal elephant who would give his life for another. Lawson easily fit into this character as he slowly lumbered around the stage, spoke Seuss rhymes in meek tones, and chased, captured and protected the Whoville clover. As Horton is ridiculed at first and then mistreated by the Jungle of Nool characters, Lawson portrayed the gradual growth of Horton in his change of voice and confident stature. Horton sings some of the more important and beautiful songs in this music score. My favorite has always been the haunting ballad, Solla Sollew, which becomes a duet with JoJo, then later a four-piece with the Mayor and Mrs. Mayor, JoJo’s parents. Lawson had a nice tenor voice that carried all Horton’s songs well. His voice could handle the sustains, blended harmoniously with the others, and showed emotional depth with every song. The emotions of musicals are most often found in the songs and Lawson’s acting ability also filled each song with a visible emotional quality.

Gertrude McFuzz is the young girl bird who wants her tail to be long and lush like her idol, Mayzie La Bird. Molly Morgan played Gertrude and matched Lawson’s Horton well, as a bird-in-love, blaming her short tail when Horton fails to notice her. Morgan gave an excellent performance as Gertrude, finding her bird-ness and playing all the movements of an uncoordinated bird to the hilt. Some of her postures as Gertrude, in trying to attract Horton, were hilarious. Morgan also had a voice that worked well for Gertrude, especially when she lamented her plight during “Notice Me Horton”, and in duet with Lawson during “Yopp!/Alone in the Universe”. Morgan had the task of being both a primary comic relief (okay, pretty much all the characters were comic relief) and subject of the tender love story. She balanced this with her outrageous physical comedy while simultaneously singing and showing her love for Horton.

JoJo is the son of the Mayor of Whoville. He’s a quintessential, troublesome boy, which for a Who involves “thinks,” that maddening imagination that dreams up wild stories. In fact, the whole story could be a “think.” JoJo was played by Stephen Newton for the reviewed performance, and had no trouble becoming young JoJo. Newton is only a 5th grader, but despite his youth, he sang with a confident voice, especially in several solos and duets with Horton. He also sang with the Cat and his best song was “Alone in the Universe”, a repeated refrain throughout the show. Newton was very energetic as the young student of the Cat, even when it got him into trouble, and he did a fine job taking the stage as the storyteller along with the narrating Cat.

The Cat in the Hat was played by Zachary Willis who shaped events, narrated the story, and acted as many sub-characters that only appeared once. Willis commanded the stage as the narrator and slipped between audience and story time easily. His jazzy Cat-like movements, along with a characteristic Cat costume and the Hat made him stand out wherever he was. A good singer, his songs were usually with other characters and the ensemble, but I especially liked his solo, “How Lucky You Are,” which set up one of the main themes for Seuss’ stories. While Willis slipped into and out of the minor characters, every kid in the audience knew who he really was, but every character he played was a delight to see and hear.

There are so many other characters to mention: Mayzie La Bird, played by Jessica Taylor, excited the audience with her “Amazing Mayzie” and “Amazing Horton” songs. The Mayor of Whoville, played by JaceSon P. Barrus, looked and acted the part of a blustery mayor with a soft spot for his family. Along with Mrs. Mayor, played by Emily Warwick, their songs told the tale of parents trying to raise a son in a confused world. “How to Raise a Child” spoke to every parent in the audience and their part in “Solla Sollew” was beautifully harmonized with JoJo and Horton. Caroline Rivera portrayed the brassy and bossy Sour Kangaroo. Canadian-trained in theater and classical music, Rivera had the powerful voice this character needs and her solo phrases in the Jungle of Nool songs made you sit up and listen.

The entire ensemble, a wonderful group of actors and singers, filled the theater space with glorious song and the audience with joy and laughter, and lit up children’s faces for the entire performance. Seussical The Musical is a “children’s show” that leaves a message for those of any age, for those who are truly young at heart. It well deserves to be seen by young and old. Gather up the family soon as it plays only a few more times this weekend.

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