Seussical the Musical, the brainchild of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, very cleverly weaves many of the stories of Dr. Seuss into a musical theatre experience. Premiering on Broadway in 2000, it is one of the most exciting and fun musicals of recent times; thoroughly entertaining due to its myriad of kooky and familiar characters.
OCPAC presented this musical last year and have now staged this return season as part of the Melbourne Comedy Festival. Although not what one would typically expect to see as part of the comedy festival, it provides many funny, endearing and joyful moments, whilst offering a family friendly avenue for Comedy Festival goers.
Due to the restriction of sharing the stage with multiple acts through the festival, the production doesn't have a set. I was informed that the original staging of this production had a very cute and clever set last year. But not to matter, it hasn't detracted, and this new presentation still has plenty of colour and life in its costumes, lighting and above all, its characters. A toy chest is incorporated as the sole set item, from which objects appear, characters disappear into, and it also provides a platform to give height to ensemble members through the drama of the piece.
Director Josh Ellwood has assembled an excellent young cast and has brought out lively performances from the many characters. Musical direction by Daniel Donovan is tight and very well executed, but at times it was hindered dramatically by its amplification. Microphones would come up halfway through lines or dip out mid-scene, and the balance of the band wasn't quite consistent on opening night. Hopefully this will be fine-tuned for future performances. Kelsey Andrew created effective and appropriate choreography, often with interesting and clever formations, for the large ensemble.
Costume design by Shonaid Uccellini was colourful and managed to suggestively humanise each character's animal in the Jungle of Nool, or depict uniformity in the town of Whoville. Lighting by Giancarlo Salamanca also helped to effectively define space and location, giving life to the bare stage. I did think that there were times where there was room for even more contrast in some of the lighting states between the worlds when both appeared on stage; and where leaf-patterned lighting depicting the Truffula Trees on Who appeared, I felt this could have been less confusingly used to depict the Jungle of Nool, with another projection potentially helping depict the Who world.
The cast is led by Mark Yeates as quintessential showman, the Cat in the Hat. He executes all his cameos (complete with accent and often hilarious accessory additions) with great comic timing, and takes the role in his stride. Sam McPartlan as Horton the Elephant gives an endearing and sensitive performance. He moulds his voice perfectly around the role and is adorable in his slow, lumbering nature.
As Gertrude McFuzz, Eleanor Horsburgh gives an assured performance as she navigates her way through love and lust, frustration and desperation. She is sweet and doesn't miss a beat. Her physicality goes hand in hand with her powerful voice, which at times is reminiscent of a young child. This, in turn, makes you empathise with the poor bird who continually goes unnoticed. Elise Cavallo, as Mayzie LaBird, gives a commanding and forthright performance as the more domineering of the feathered females in the show. Her presence is beyond her years and her character is suitably aloof.
Jojo is played by the young Andreas Katsiroubas. Katsiroubas is a confident up and coming performer who was able to play the character with childlike wonder and defiance. It came across as his voice may be changing at the moment and his current range struggled with some of the score, but to his credit he powered through. His parents, the Mayor of Whoville and Mrs Mayor are played by Nathan Slevin and Sophie Loughran respectively. With subtle nuances, they work in tandem and complement each other whilst popping up all over the theatre. General Ghengis Khan Schmitz is played by Zak Marrinan who is suitable hostile despite running a kitchen-utensil armed military.
I wouldn't have expected that Seussical the Musical would have room to incorporate a drag act, but Nicholas Renfree-Marks tackles the role of the Sour Kangaroo, complete with fake eyelashes and glitter eye-shadow. And he humphs the voice! The biggest surprise of the show is that he sings the traditionally female diva role without even having to try! His voice sails through the score and over the ensemble, and he brings all the attitude and sass to back it up, creating hilarity in every appearance.
The Wickersham Brothers, Patrick O'Bryan, Joshua Gavin and Joshua Robson, are executed with spunk and vigour – the monkeys don’t sit still, and the harmonies between the trio are tight. Sarah Cuthbert, Samantha Paulin and Charlie Helliwel are the Bird Girls, and they switch from narrators to backup singers with knowing and flair. The ensemble are together and energetic at all times and there's never a dull moment when they are on the stage.
This production of Seussical is a whole lot of fun! Get along and see this talented cast while you can… Bring the kids along, or just take yourself – there's something for everyone in this show. You may not like Green Eggs and Ham, but you'll surely like Seussical, Sam I am!