Directed by Jay Prock and Shawna Linck, The Poteet Theatre's production of "Seussical: The Musical" is an ambitious and vibrant production that is entertaining in spite of the shortcomings of the source material. "Seussical"'s narrative is cobbled together from the stories of Dr. Seuss into a new and overly complicated Frankenstein mash-up of a tale. Despite being retooled after an unsuccessful Broadway premiere in 2000, "Seussical" still feels a little confusing.
The story follows a young girl, JoJo (Meg Linck), whisked away by The Cat in the Hat (Charlie Monnot) to Whoville, where she becomes the daughter of the mayor. It's not long before her new parents send her away to the army for thinking too much.
Meanwhile, Horton the elephant (Prock) is trying to protect the miniscule Whos from destruction by unbelieving jungle animals, led by Sour Kangaroo, in a dynamic performance by Renee Anderson, delivering her lines with gospel-like zeal. Then there's Gertrude McFuzz (Madison Linck), the awkward bird who longs for Horton's attention.
Last is Mayzie, the most attractive avian inhabitant of the jungle, played with confidence by Audrey Henderson, who convinces Horton to sit on her egg while she absconds to Palm Beach. This is just after Horton has lost the Whos and just before he is captured by hunters "? and that's just Act 1!
"Seussical" features a huge cast, numbering 71 strong, playing 81 different roles. Unfortunately, "Seussical" lacks a strong lead with whom to empathize. The Cat in The Hat, while portrayed with some range by Monnot, does double duty as narrator and instigator, often putting JoJo in danger, making him unlikable at times. JoJo's story and origin are unclear, leaving Horton as the closest thing to a strong central character, but even he fails to fully charm.
Not limited to the stage, the entire theater has been transformed, creating an immersive visual experience taking the audience into the world of Dr. Seuss with murals and sets all done in the whimsical style of the beloved books. "Seussical" also makes excellent use of lighting and other effects to give the production a delightful, whiz-bang quality.
There is a lot of imagination and heart on display throughout, especially in the big production numbers like "Biggest Blame Fool," where the stage comes alive with color and movement. Despite the number of people onstage, choreographers Prock and Sherri Smith keep things under control. The real gem of the night is the strikingly beautiful "Havin' a Hunch," featuring several ghostly apparitions constantly changing shape and size under black lights. Another highlight is "Monkey Around" featuring the Wickershams (John Gehling Jr., Alex Prather and Brandt Sterling), a group of mischievous simians that steal several scenes.
While the sets are pure Seuss, the costumes by Dawn Gehling and Hanna Mobley-Housel are a bright and daring departure, often making use of minimal designs, leaving much to the imagination. Hair designer Allison Bonham also has some great work on display in the delightfully wild Whoville hairdos.
Poteet's "Seussical" has its flaws, but it's a valiant and admirably audacious effort worth sharing with the whole family.
"? Eric Webb