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I dig jazz and single-malt scotch.  I write plays; I direct them too. I love STAR WARS more than is healthy. I walk my dogs every day, unless it's raining or terribly cold.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Seussical the Musical -- think a big THINK!

Horton (George Lombardo) hears a Who

The cast of Seussical the Musical singing the opening number "Oh the Thinks You Can Think!"

Like a fizzy, mixed tonic after a long day, Seussical the Musical at The Spirit of Broadway Theater in Norwich really hit the spot last Saturday night. This fast-paced, plucky little show was a delight, and the small, black-box performance area enhanced its effect, making us (the audience) part of its fun in a way that would not have been possible in a larger space.

The play opens with a light bulb, the bare kind, called a “ghost light”, used to ensure that the last person leaving and the first person arriving a theater won’t fall into the pit. A boy enters, played by Norwich resident Julian Miyata (making his SOBT debut). In the light cast by the lamp he notices a hat, a large peculiar hat, and he begins to imagine what sort of being might wear such a striped hat? He decides that a cat, a large cat, would wear a hat such as that…and so he conjures the Cat in the Hat, played by stage veteran Maureen Pollard.

And so the world of Seussical is let loose through the imagination of this boy, with some meddling by the Cat in the Hat of course, and an ensemble of players totaling seventeen in all, an astounding number when you consider that they all dance while singing on the very small stage.

The story touches on many Seussian favorites who make cameos, like Yurtle the Turtle, the creatures from McElligot’s Pool, and even the Grinch, but the primary story revolves around the travails of Horton the Elephant, played with sincerity to spare by George Lombardo. Through Horton hearing the Whos who inhabit the smallest planet (so small it floats on a dust-speck), we are transported to Whoville, where the boy who thought the whole place up in the first place becomes JoJo, the mayor’s troublesome son. Why troublesome? Because all of his magical “thinks” turn into true beings that tend to cause a ruckus.

In the larger world the dust-speck carrying the Who’s is in peril, and Horton becomes sidetracked when he agrees to hatch an egg for the free-wheeling Mayzie, played with show-stopping gusto by Stacey Michaud.

The Who’s in this production are a mix of actors and puppets, a delightful contrivance that immediately doubles the population of Whoville for our enjoyment. Simple, colorful costuming and some straight-forward hand-held props make this production a feast for our imagination as much as a dazzle for the eye and a whir for the ear. This hometown, black-box production, a space that does not allow for razzle-dazzle production values, does allow the audience to bring their mind-eye into the room, and that is this production’s strength.

Did I mention the voices? Of course the Whos do make their famous call “We are here, we are here, we are here!” , and the monkeys shout “Bowl that dust-speck!” and even “I do not like green eggs and ham…!” works its way in, but I mean the sound of the ensemble working with the strong musical score.

Remember America Rock and Grammar Rock, singing things like, “A noun is a person place or thing, deedadeedadee…!” and, “Elbow room, elbow room, got to got to get us some elbow room…”? Those were the lyrics of Lynn Ahrens, who along with Stephen Flaherty has created a lively book and score for Seassical.

Of course, the best music in the world means nothing if you don’t have the performers to sing it. This production has those performers.

With a great sounding cast, dynamic staging, and a fun book and score, Seussiacl the Musical at the Spirit of Broadway is a great reason to bring the whole family out to enjoy an evening of theater.

Seuesical the Musical January 5 thru February 12, 2006
Book and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, Music by Stephen Flaherty
Co-Conceived by Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty & Eric Idle
Based on the works of Dr. Seuss
Co-Directed by Brett A. Bernardini & Lisa Foss
at The Spirit of Broadway Theater 24 Chestnut Street, Norwich
on the web at www.spiritofbroadway.org

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