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NKU’s “Seussical” Brings Out its Audiences’ Inner Child

Review by Lisa Gapultos of Seussical: Northern Kentucky University

NKUSeussicalImageThrough his popular collections of illustrated children’s, Theodore Seuss Geisel – better known as Dr. Seuss– created a colorful world, populated by characters like Sam I Am, The Grinch, Things One and Two,  and Red Fish and Blue Fish. Seussical, currently running at Northern Kentucky University, brings to life the two-dimensional citizens of the pages of Dr. Seuss’ books. The performance I attended was sold-out; the audience included a good amount of children, including my 7-year old daughter.

This musical is a mash-up of three stories– Horton Hears a Who, Horton Hatches the Egg, and Gertrude McFuzz— and navigated, sometimes manipulated, by The Cat in the Hat. The lovable pachyderm endures the ire and torment of friends and strangers for being helpful and selfless in protecting an egg and a spec. The self-conscious bird Gertrude is Horton’s only support, as she works through her own issues of not being satisfied with her spare tail feathers while pining for Horton’s attention. As one would expect, everything works out for both Horton and Gertrude.

Under the direction of NKU Associate Professor of Performance Daryl Harris, the lively cast of 24 gleefully gives their all, a necessity with the physicality of the show.  The big company numbers are swift and a delight to watch. Everyone, down to the ensemble, is dedicated to channeling their inner child, and it’s evident they are savoring every second onstage.

While I did not find many of the songs too memorable, there were several vocal stand outs: Madeleine Burgoon in a strong energetic performance as Jojo; Taylor Greatbatch, who showcased showy comedic knack as the all-knowing Cat in the Hat; and Brittany Hayes as a fierce diva-like Sour Kangaroo. As Horton, Bryan Huber brilliantly embodies an easy and ever-pleasing nature, going from reserved agreement to fretful panic.

The set was fashioned as a multi-level playground, complete with hopscotch, four square, a slide and several jungle gym type of structures, all of which further enhanced the youthful qualities of the cast. The varied heights of the stage (which was supplemented with video backdrop) were instrumental in establishing the numerous locations of the books, such as the Jungle of Nool, Whoville, Palm Beach, McElliot’s Pool and a great patch of clovers a hundred miles wide.

Costumes were vibrant and, rather than being literal, they represented the essence of the characters in human form. For example, in the book Horton Hears a Who, the Wickersham brothers are a group of troublesome monkeys, in NKU’s production the three actors portraying them were dressed like adolescent bullies; the hedonistic and insistent Mayzie La Bird was dressed as a flamboyant showgirl. The childlike ingenuity was further reinforced with props such as pool noodles pulling multi-duty as water, and Horton’s circus cage created with several brooms and string.

Having read some of the Dr. Seuss books to my children as babies, I was familiar with the many characters; my daughter’s favorite part of the show was “everything”. Perhaps someone less familiar with the stories may find this production confusing or boring. I was impressed much more by the performances of the cast, than by the actual material. Seussical provides a perfect opportunity to engage young audiences; it allows the audience to glimpse the playful and vibrant world where an awkward good-hearted elephant can save the day amidst the chaos orchestrated by a wily and lanky feline in an enormous red and white top hat.