‘Seussical the Musical’ a rousing, rollicking romp
Story by Laurie Merrill
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU Today Magazine
One theme of “Seussical the Musical” is letting children “think thinks,” but from the moment the spotlight shines on a red-and-white striped hat to when it focuses on – well, we don’t want to ruin it! — the only thought the audience will have is “wow.”
The Grand Canyon University College of Fine Arts and Production musical, opening tonight at Ethington Theatre for the first of a sold-out, 11-show run, is an exhilarating good time that grabs your attention and doesn’t let go.
It’s a big-time musical with songs ranging from sweet love-story duets to foot-stomping, all-cast numbers on a set, with fuzzy-topped trees and a “sky” that changes from green, to purple, red and blue, that brings you into the cattywampus world of Dr. Seuss.
Dr. Seuss fans will see many friends, including main characters Horton (Preston MacDonald), Gertrude McFuzz (Devaune Bohall), Mayzie LaBird (Tarnim Bybee) and JoJo (Bri HaNguyen).
But there’s no mistaking the star of the show, the Cat in the Hat (Ryan Usher), the smooth-talking, manipulative, devil-may-care catalyst who appears in an arsenal of silly hats, reveals a laugh-inducing repertoire of facial expressions, and sings songs both mocking and serious.
One number, “How Lucky You Are,” was Usher’s favorite, he said after his over-the-top performance in a role he described as “my most challenging by far.” Even though he sang it in a sarcastic way for comic effect, the message, he said, is uplifting.
“When the news is all bad,
When you’re sour and blue,
When you start to get mad
You should do what I do —
How lucky you are …’’
Amid the hilarity is a bird-gets-elephant love story between Gertrude and Horton and Who parents who learn a lesson about raising their son, JoJo.
There is peril, as the wild and crazy animals in the Jungle of Nool don’t believe Horton for a second that there is a teeny-tiny planet in a speck of dust on a clover.
Horton insists he can hear the unseeable Whos and sings that “a person is a person no matter how small.”
The monkeys, birds and lions, the soul-singing “sour kangaroo” (Becky Vice), the vulture with menacing black wings and all the creatively costumed characters bring sensational energy.
Some of the biggest laughs came for three monkeys (Bennett Wood, Kaleb Burris and Taylor Kortman) who sing, dance and even tumble, most of the time wearing red-framed goggles.
But Gertrude, with her longing for a bigger tail to attract Horton and her fumbling attempts to fit in with the “bird girls” (Carah Robenalt, Kaylee Atkisson and Laynie Nelson), elicited some of the biggest laughs of the night.
There’s no mistaking the characters: The Whos have hair that is tightly braided and coiffed and they move woodenly, like dolls, while the jungle animals move with sinewy litheness. The sultry bird girls have fluffy, feather-like, unfettered hair.
The audience is treated to several mesmerizing moments when the entire cast comes to the front of the stage, faces the house and performs jaw-dropping musical numbers.
MacDonald, who plays Horton, was thunderstruck by the audience’s positive response.
“It’s so amazing to have it pay off like this,” MacDonald said, beaming.
HaNguyen, who plays JoJo, described the dress rehearsal as “the most magical experience. The audience gives us so much energy.”
Director Michael Kary said before Thursday’s performance that the show is “super fun. It’s a different type show than we’ve ever done. … It’s a gigantic undertaking.”
After the curtain dropped, when asked what the audience can expect, Kary said: “We can expect to go back to being seven years old.”
Contact Laurie Merrill at 602-639-6511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To see a slideshow of the colorful characters, click here.