“Seussical” by the Civic Light Opera South Bay
by Stacey Morse
“Seussical the Musical” has jumped to the Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities. And I will have green eggs, Sam-I-Am! I think I like them (but hold the ham).
Director Stephanie Coltrin has gathered a wonderfully diverse ensemble, which keeps individual characters alive while blending where needed, key for a show going everywhere at once. Hold on to your hat! Congratulations also to musical director Daniel Busby, who found a combination of voices and instruments that balance and complement. I do wish I’d seen more kids in this varied cast.
At first blush, “Seussical” has the same issues as “Cats” – trying to blend many works by the same artist into a cohesive tale. Some work, others not so much, but the overall effect is fun and entertaining.
One great thing about this show (which could be its downfall under other circumstances), is the large number of breakout performances that need to go smoothly in order for this conceivably confusing mosaic to work. And a mosaic it is – I lost count of the number of Seuss stories that make up “Seussical.” For some of us of a certain, um, age, this is a blast to the past, and reason to pick up the books again. For others, Seuss is brand new, red and blue.
Sam Zeller is a splendid galumphy surprise as Horton the Elephant, graceful, clumsy, and caring, just like in his book. Minimalist lumber-jack-elephant costuming allows Zeller’s expressions to show, but I would have liked just a little more reminder that he was an elephant who hears a Who! Will everyone, too?
Horton and young John Dombek Lindahl as “Jojo” blend voices beautifully for “Alone in the Universe.” The two are a pleasure to hear together.
Annie V. Ramsey as Gertrude McFuzz is just the cutest bird that ever there was. Ramsey gives life to Gertrude’s cartoonish voice, but never lets it become annoying, which is impressive given the challenging music and tale – er, tail. Songs written with a whine in mind are given a sweet lilt. And of course there’s chemistry with Horton…
Jessica Gisin gleefully grinds out songs as the brassy but clueless Mayzie, whose Bird Girls act as a Greek Chorus, while the tumbling monkeyshines of the Wickersham Brothers torment Horton, and engage the audience.
Harrison White as the Cat in the Hat is our master of ceremonies. The directors made some interesting choices for his characterization, but I was more confused by the tail, more evocative of a scorpion than a Seuss creation. Was this a nod to Seuss’s political commentary, an interesting costuming choice, or do I have issues with scorpions? The Cat’s bittersweet “How Lucky You Are,” was particularly so in the reprise with Mayzie. He’s also a fun lead-in to the second act, which starts slowly but picks up speed.
The Grinch, and Mr. and Mrs. Mayor, bring the whole of Whoville to life, with the help of special-effects scenery, whimsical musical instruments, and fun costuming.
“Technicals” shine in this production. A clever and smooth set by J. Branson evokes the Seuss books without making them seem as if they have been copy/pasted into a set, thus creating a stage where characters can really play.
George Bacon’s costume design is largely fun and evocative, but seems a bit unfinished at times. Some characters have only minimalist costuming; others have an actual character body. The Butterfly is easy and fun with giant glasses for eyes, and the Lion, Snake, Frog, and Lizard and others are easy to spot by costuming and characterizations, but why no ears or tail for the Sour Kangaroo? Other than lyrics, we can tell that belting and beautiful Paula Chimene Jiles is the Sour Kangaroo only because of the Baby Kangaroo nearby.
Lighting by Darrell J. Clark is another star in the show. His creative use of “4-D” lighting makes the audience part of the Seuss-iverse, with lights and shadows that should be taking a bow.
Seamless special effects help create a cartoon atmosphere. With dynamic leads, a great ensemble, strong voices from all corners, and so much to see, Theodor Seuss Geisel – “Dr. Seuss” – would be pleased, and the audience will be, too.
Perhaps because of the dozens of songs, only one melody sticks in my memory, and it may be the theme of the whole show: “A person’s a person no matter how small.”
P.S. Don’t leave the theater without trying the cookies!
Seussical the Musical is onstage through Dec. 20 at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, Aviation and Manhattan Beach boulevards, Redondo Beach. Performances, Tuesday through Sunday at 8 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets, $45 to $60. Call (310) 372-4477 or go to civiclightopera.com. ER