By Colin Douglas
Oh, my goodness! Just tell yourself, “How Lucky You Are,” Chicagoans, especially those with families of young children.
With Spring lurking just beyond the next snowdrift, there seems to be dozens of pleasurable options wherever you look. But Marriott Theatre for Young Audiences’ exciting and entertaining production of Seussical stands out as one of the most multicolored musical offerings around.
This 65-minute Broadway-caliber extravaganza is actually an combination of eight Dr. Seuss classics cleverly rolled into one charming story. The show is filled with oodles of catchy, toe-tapping, pop/rock songs by talented Broadway composers Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime, Once on this Island, Rocky) and featuring additional scripted material by Monty Python’s Eric Idle.
Originally a two-act musical when it opened on Broadway 15 years ago, the show garnered disappointing reviews and closed much sooner than anticipated. The chief criticism was that the script was too ambitious by trying to include every Dr. Seuss’ story and character in one show. The production earned a few Tony nominations, but its creators wisely listened to the criticism and reworked the piece. Gone now are extraneous story lines, unnecessary characters and a couple musical numbers. While still containing a full score, the new version moves along swiftly with nary a moment of restlessness for the five-and-up crowd.
This production opens with our Emcee, the beloved Cat in the Hat. He wears the character’s signature red-and-white top hat, offering a copy of the Seuss classic to a little boy. This friendly feline becomes our narrator, tour guide and even pops in and out of the story itself, playing a variety of comic roles. The main plot revolves around Horton Hears a Who! and Horton Hatches the Egg. There are side trips to McElligot’s Pool, Oh the Thinks You Can Think, If I Ran the Circus and other favorites. Some stories emerge only in song, such as the haunting “Solla Sollew,” while others are simply referenced. But the heart of this dazzling musical showcases Horton the Elephant, his adoring feathered friend, Gertrude McFuzz, and their flashy, egotistic neighbor, Mayzie Le Bird. Together with an ensemble of other Dr. Seuss characters, Horton tries to save the lives of little JoJo and his tiny Whoville family and friends, who live on a speck of dust.
William Carlos Angula’s direction is engaging, always sharp and focused; and his sassy choreography makes this show as contemporary and humorous as it is heartfelt. Angula’s production is a loving homage to everyone’s favorite childhood author. Played everywhere upon the Marriott stage, and even up and down the aisles, the show sparkles with lighting by Greg Hofmann, a sound design courtesy of Robert E. Gilmartin and media detailed by Anthony Churchill. Nancy Missimi’s costumes, wigs and make-up designs provide a suggestion of each character and transport audiences to the wonderful world of Seuss. Seasoned with savvy musical direction by Patti Garwood, who also conducts the live accompaniment, this production is a tasty treat.
Angula’s cast is truly talented and completely captivating. Jonathan Butler-Duplessis’ Cat in the Hat is jaunty and jovial, wonderfully showcasing his typical comic genius. His theatrical versatility makes the Cat a welcome host for this production. Evan Tyrone Martin is sweetly lovable and earnest in the role of Horton the Elephant. Blessed with a Broadway caliber voice, Martin sells each and every song with warmth and charm, particularly the lovely “Alone in the Universe,” sung with the gifted and winsome young Patrick Scott McDermott, as JoJo. This 9-year-old actor is, hands-down, the best actor I’ve ever seen in this role.
Talented and lovable Kelly Felthous is sweet, hilarious and quite heartbreaking and as Gertrude McFuzz, Horton’s not-so-secret ardent admirer, who will do anything for her oblivious friend. Blessed with a full, rich voice, her 11th hour comic ballad, “All for You,” is touching and melodramatically mirthful. Always impressive, Michelle Lauto is a standout as sexy, spoiled and self-centered Mayzie Le Bird. Thinking only of herself, she leaves Horton to care for her egg while she heads off to the tropics for a long vacation. There she dazzles the audience with her bouncy, Latin-inspired, “Amazing Mayzie.”
The cast also includes an array of impressive belters and gifted dancers. Nicole Kyoung Mi Lambert, powerfully infuses the Sour Kangaroo with a gospel sound. Ensemble members Alejandro Fonseca, Brandon Springman, Ron King, Mallory Maedke and Samantha Pauly all get to showcase their diverse talents as they play a variety of humorous singing and dancing character roles.
Audiences searching for excellent family entertainment should look no further than the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. It’s current offering is guaranteed to charm the children, give grownups a good guffaw and and spring us into the warmer season with relish. This musical simply blossoms with fun. Seussical, with its sweetly honest story of friendship, offers a full hour of laughter and music. A dozen talented Chicago actors breathe life and levity into these beloved Dr. Seuss beloved characters; and Flaherty and Ahrens’ catchy score delight with a bounty of infectious songs and dances. This may not New York, but Angulo’s production is as polished as anything you’ll see on Broadway. With all the talent and fun this production offers, audiences will be telling themselves, “How Lucky You Are.”
Marriott Theatre presents “Seussical” through March 31 at 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire. More information and tickets are available here.