At first glance, when entering the theatre, it appears that someone has torn the pages from a Seuss book and papered the walls of the intimate stage with their illustrations!
In reality, it is the whimsical brilliance of set designer Scott Campbell who has created the world of Dr. Seuss, from the Forest of Noor down to the tiny world of Who. Campbell’s fantastic design has been brought to life by the artistry of Noah Struthers’ brush hand.
The lights dim and after a brief interlude with JoJo and the maniacal Cat in the Hat, the stage is aglow with the cast of 22 dancing and singing about the space resplendent in costumes created by the highly imaginative talent of Frances Rankos.
From there, it just gets better and better.
Choreographer Katharine M. Stricker sees that no one stands still for more than a moment and although all actors seem to be doing their own thing, they amazingly merge into a coordinated company as fluidly natural as a creek flows into the river.
Terry O’Hara conducts the orchestra and plays keyboard while Taylor Richmond is on drums, Kelly Nathanson plays reeds, Patrick O’Hara slides trombone and Mason Gillespie strums guitar. Happily, O’Hara never lets the music overwhelm the singers, allowing every voice to be heard.
This is truly an ensemble show, and in an ensemble – especially one of this number – it is difficult to point out the best performances. All are admirable from the trio of birds, who resemble a Greek chorus, to the tiny Who folk floating on a speck of dust caught up in the wind.
Kat Christensen, Lanita Hudson and Rachel Lind make up the bird trio, Lex Gernon, is the Grinch. Tori Gernon, Beth Meberg (who is also Dance Captain), Henry Nettleton, Kendra Phillips and Paige Teeny are animals of the forest. They all pop up hither and yon in various parts defined by additions to costume or makeup.
Reuben Walker, Dan Crossman and Solomon Sanders as the Wickersham Brothers and the monkeys of Noor turn in notable performances. They are remarkably agile in dance and acrobatics while still being able to sing as they bound up and down ladders and bounce about the stage.
The Mayor of Who is Ted Fredericks; his wife is Christel Gillespie. They look, act and sing their roles to perfection. Elizabeth Richmond is a sexy, frivolous Mayzie who sticks Horton with her egg while she dances off to Palm Beach.
Karen Christensen is incredible and conniving as the Cat. Her acting and vocal ability makes it easy to understand how she won the role.
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Rich Frias is General Ghenghis Kahn Schmitz. It is ironic that the most laughs in the show come when he appears on stage touting the need for war. His character is drawn from the worst traits of stereotypical military men akin to Gen. Buck Turgidson in “Dr. Strangelove.”
Peter Gernon is JoJo, the focus of the Cat’s antics. The young lead handles the role with both the acting and vocal aplomb of a seasoned professional.
Stephanie Nace is Gertrude, the soulful bird with a one-feathered tail. Nace is a born comedienne, not to mention that she looks, acts and sings more like a bird than Tweety!
The strongest voice belongs to Cynthia Bettes, the Sour Kangaroo. When she opens her mouth and belts out an accusation against Horton, even the casual pedestrian outside the theatre can surely hear her and take heed. Young Sariah Brumet as her joey ably assists Bettes.
Then there’s Horton.
Managing Artistic Director Marcus Walker has proven himself a true renaissance man, as he not only directs Seussical, he performs the lead role of Horton, the elephant. This seemingly impossible task magical Marcus manages magnificently! His voice is perfectly clear, sometimes plaintive, sometimes jubilant but always filled with compassion and love.
The unsung hero of the production is Chad Russell, the stage manager. Seldom do back stage personnel get credit when it is due. However, this time the position cannot be overlooked. Russell runs the show; he tends the actors, cues the crew and ensures everything melds into an audience-pleasing experience.
Theodor Giesel, better known as Dr Seuss, wrote all his zany stories with a lesson to be learned by all. The musical follows suit.
Seuss wanted everyone to learn to use their imagination; he wanted children to never give up – that anything they set their minds to was possible. He wanted children and adults to realize that the size of a person doesn’t matter in the scheme of life.
With lyrics like “The thinks you can think,” “It’s possible,” and “A person’s a person no matter how small,” one is sure to leave the theatre remembering the music.
Let’s hope they remember the message as well.
Seussical continues at the Lakewood Playhouse each Friday and Saturday night at 8 and Sunday matinees at 2, December 9 through 24, then again January 4 through 7; there is “Pay-What-You-Can performance for Thursday, December 14, an actor’s appreciation performance Thursday, January 4 and a special Saturday matinee January 6.
For more information or reservations, call (253) 588-0042 or go online to www.lakewoodplayhouse.org. The Lakewood Playhouse is in the northeast section of the Lakewood Towne Center, next to the Pierce Transit bur terminal.
Submitted by Lynn Geyer