Rea Reviews: MBHS “Seussical: The Musical”

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[This is a review of the Friday night production. SPOILERS for Seussical: The Musical. Theatrically consulted by Zoë Hendricks.]

“Anyone willing to bid a functioning sound system? We sure need one.”

From May 19th to 21st, drama director Ms Kostecka and her student ensemble were back, this time performing a colorful musical adaptation of several famous Dr. Seuss books: Seussical. Seussical is a stark departure from their previous project, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream – a far more mawkish and commercial piece, and undoubtedly a far poorer script. The play is enormously convoluted, going from subplot to subplot and messily weaving them together. There’s always a massive air of conflict without ever expressly describing the issue. Characters yell for help without, as far as I can tell, ever explaining what the matter is. It’s a ferociously dark screenplay, too. Despite the child-friendly facade, it inexplicably features child abandonment, free speech suppression, elephant trafficking, genocide, pill popping, and a thinly veiled analogy for enhancement surgery. I’m not the only person with issues. The show was a critical flop after its Broadway debut in late 2000, and closed after less than six months to financial losses totaling 11 million dollars. As for the MBHS production, the only issue I have is the unfortunate sound setup: far too loud, scratchy, and unable to properly mix the show’s synchronous lyrical directions. However, the improv-d line from Jack Bargatze – written above in quotes – makes up for this. It gave me a good chuckle, and is definitely Seussical‘s wittiest line despite being made up on the spot.

Nonetheless, unfazed by a lackluster script, Ms Kostecka’s ensemble is on their A-game here, once again. Bargatze is as charismatic as ever as the Cat in the Hat, the show’s narrator, who introduces us to The Jungle of Nool. The Cat has the same ostentatious flair as Bottom, the thespian character in A Midsummer Night‘s Dream who Bargatze played previously. Bargatze encapsulates the Cat’s energy equally well. In the Jungle, we meet Horton, a kind-hearted elephant and the musical’s lead character, played by Cooper Huss. Huss is an unmistakable force to be reckoned with. Horton is a completely different character than the tyrannical, often irate Oberon whom Huss played in Midsummer; naive, awkward, altruistic. And yet, Huss tackles the character with the same ease with which he tackled Oberon, effortlessly disappearing into the role. This versatility, a calming tenor, and an expressive face makes Huss a standout performer in every production he’s in.

Horton discovers a speck of dust containing a microscopic universe, Whoville. He meets a cheerful mayor and his wife (Angus McNellie and Rae Ruane respectively) who scold JoJo (Rylee Blackham) for having too many “thinks.” Ruane’s ebullient presence and excellent vocals were notable aspects. It’s an unfathomable writing decision to make the situation so Orwellian, but I digress. Most of the Whos are played by elementary-age children, an adorable touch resulting in many jubilant audience responses. The guileless nature of the Whos found in the original Seuss books are deftly captured by the cast; the smiles plastered on their faces matching Geisel’s art to a tee. Blackham nails her juvenile character, acting the age of the children around her. Horton befriends JoJo in the show’s best number, “Alone in the Universe”, and agrees to protect the Whos. The animals of the Jungle of Nool ridicule Horton. Valerie Merson’s Sour Kangaroo is a vocal standout, while the physical presence of the Wickersham brothers (Lucas Huss, Earl Bump, Quin Quinto) is hilarious. Their aggressive pouncing is impressively choreographed, constantly running through the aisles and jumping off the stage.

Two animals in the Jungle don’t scorn Horton. One is Mayzie la Bird, a vivacious yet self-centered and lazy animal far more concerned with herself. Mayzie is played by Josephine Davis, who ably captures the bird’s egotistical and careless attitude while still making her a somewhat relatable character. Davis’s vocal skills are also notable, and one especially has to laud her solo, “Amazing Mayzie.” The other is Gertrude McFuzz, Horton’s lovestruck neighbor who admires his compassion. Tru Forster plays Gertrude with dexterity and poise. Her portrayal of a girl with a crush is funny and empathetic; lines like “love song for Horton #492” are endearing and show how Forster evanesces into the role. Her voice also has a lot of emotional range, both in times of music and dialogue. Mayzie and Gertrude’s subplot is a wild ride that’s sloppily written, but it’s a lot of fun thanks to Davis and Forster. Eventually, Horton and Gertrude band together to save the Whos, and restore peace and unity to the Jungle of Nool. Speaking of the Whos, one has to praise the Seussical‘s crew. For instance, to set the scene for Jojo’s character, she comes out in an elaborate plywood bathtub prop. To symbolize her transformative imagination, it flips into an equally elaborate submarine. It was this kind of colorful creativity that made the sets and overall crew for Seussical so worthy of praise. As anybody invested in theater knows, it’s really the crew who makes the play.

I did not like the Seussical, the play, but the cast and crew did everything possible to make Seussical, the production, a fairly solid one. It says a lot about the MBHS Drama department that they were able to flip a critically panned, fundamentally uneven musical that Variety called “a blundering traffic jam” into an enjoyable performance! From the immersive acting, to the delightful vocals, and fun-filled atmosphere, it’s not something I’ll be forgetting soon. My level of anticipation for MBHS’s next play, the classic murder mystery Arsenic and Old Lace, is very high.

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