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NKU’s “Seussical” Excites the Imagination

Review by Grace Eichler of Seussical: Northern Kentucky University

NKU‘s School of the Arts’s first musical of the season, the ever-exuberant Seussical, takes an ingenious and downright funky approach to what can often be a sickly saccharine story. The Flaherty and Ahrens work, based on the famous works of Dr. Seuss, combines all of our favorite characters and stories, all narrated by the mischievously omniscient Cat in the Hat, expertly personified by senior Taylor Greatbatch. Director Daryl Harris places the Jungle of Nool, Town of Whooville and everywhere else in Seuss’s world onto a schoolyard playground, further elevating the theme of imagination and “thinks.”

Jojo, adorably played by Madeleine Burgoon, sees the Cat’s Hat appear on stage, and “thinks” him into existence. The Cat then takes the lead, introducing us to our protagonist, Horton the Elephant (Brandon Huber), and all of his fellow citizens of the Jungle of Nool. The plot ties together so many Seuss stories that you’ll have to see it to follow, and delight in remembering some of your favorite Seuss words and characters.

The score is overwhelmingly chipper and energetic, and needs talented voices and direction in order to be successful. Music Director and Conductor Damon Stevens tackles it deftly, although opening night had some of the more difficult group entrances that weren’t quite synched up with the orchestra.

Outstanding voices include Brittany Hayes’s Sour Kangaroo and all of her Arethariffic riffs and rolls. Harmonies are solid throughout the two featured ensembles of the Bird Girls (Kathryn Klens, Kaitlin McCulloch and Christina Tully) and the Wickersham Brothers (Kyle Segar, Andrew Blake and Kyle Taylor), although mic issues made many of them difficult to identify. Segar particularly impresses as the soloist on what may be the show-stealing number, “Monkey Around.” The boy band-esque trio breaks it down in the middle of the song with a step battle that is very impressive, so huge kudos to Choreographer Heather Britt.

An additional noteworthy performance is from Gabriella Francis as the diva Mayzie La Bird, who dumps her egg onto Horton to take a vacation in Palm Beach. Having seen many Mayzies, this may have been my favorite depiction. I’m not sure if Francis was intentionally going for it, but I was overwhelmingly reminded of Jenny Slate’s Mona Lisa Saperstein character on Parks and Recreation, and I loved it.

No production of Seussical is complete without a stellar costumer, and this is no exception. Ronnie Chamberlain’s designs seamlessly integrated animal characteristics in an anthropomorphized way, so that it seemed like any individual character could have been another student or teacher at recess on the school playground with Jojo. Wig Master Daniel Townsend echoed Chamberlain’s colors and detail with an eccentricity deserving of Seuss’s original illustrations. All of this was contrasted beautifully with Ronald A. Shaw’s minimalist scenic design, using metal playground equipment and a blacktop stage.

With all of the excitement, both visually and musically, it was sometimes difficult to concentrate on the action of the show. Some scenes were set so far upstage that you needed to search for where to focus your attention. The entire cast is on stage for the majority of the show, so there are hundreds of details and expressions to be distracted by at any given moment, but that also is a testament to the strength of every member of the ensemble.

And now, if you’ll forgive me…

When costumes and concept and vocals astound,
Seussical’s joy is sure to abound
The show is on stage at that school, NKU
Playing now through Sunday, November twenty-two!