SEUSSICAL: the Musical

Music by Stephen Flaherty; Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Book by Flaherty & Ahrens, co-conceived with Eric Idle
Directed by Frank Galati
Choreography by Kathleen Marshall
Set by Eugene Lee
Featuring David Shiner, Kevin Chamberlin, & Janine LaManna
The Colonial Theater
106 Boylston St., Boston MA / (617) 426 - 9366

Reviewed by Will Stackman

Seussical, the Musical, , produced here in Boston, but warming up to open at the Richard Rodgers Oct. 15th in NYC, is currently something like what hatches from the egg that moon-faced Kevin Chamberlin (Horton) keeps warm through most of the show; it looks something like an elephant, but has wings. The show is a dizzying compilation of Dr. Seuss favorites revolving around faithful Horton's two major adventures involving two disparate worlds; his home, the outrageous Jungle of Nool, inhabited by birds and beasts only the good doctor could have imagined, and the tiny dust-mote world of the Who, which only an elephant can hear. His tribulations, as he holds fast to two mottos known to most early readers; "A person's a person, no matter how small" and "I meant what I said, and I said what I meant, An elephant's faithful, One-Hundred percent." keep the show moving forward, somewhat fitfully.

As The Cat in the Hat, David Shiner serves as the narrator juggling both worlds, while playing several minor characters in the lives of Horton and his two "birds". Shiner still has all the moves from Bill Irwin's "Fool Moon", for which they won a Tony, but has been encouraged to use his clowning skills too often. The show needs more Seuss from him and less new vaudeville. The character needs to be more integrated in the action; There's more of a place for him on Who, but there are extraneous hijinks itching to be cut. He also needs additional vocal coaching, particularly in this cast of musical veterans.

In fact, while Eugene Lee's design concept is stunning, the show may have gotten too far from its source visually as well. Authentic Seussian graphics appear occasionally almost as an afterthought. Catherine Zuber's lean-look costuming is being replaced by more extravagant designs by William Ivey Long, so their look is still uncertain. Natasha Katz's lighting is a show in itself, full of projections and effects, slightly marred by the set's much too shiny black floor and is the most seussy part of the show.

The strongest part of the current production is its music as performed. Most numbers are quite extended, featuring various trios, competing ensembles, etc. while doing everything from G&S to R&R. The most affecting numbers are Janine LaManna's. As Gertrude McFuzz, a bird with a one-feather tail hopelessly in love with Horton, her charm and clear vocals carry several scenes, including the plaintive "Notice Me, Horton", and culminating in "All for You", the show-stopper which ignites the final sequence of the book. Her voice blends will with Chamberlin's plaintive tenor. The latter's most important duet "Alone in the Universe", however, is with Andrew Keenan-Bolger, the youngster playing JoJo, the youngest Who. Andrew's first act number, "It's Possible" sung with the imaginary fish in McElligot's pool, who strongly resemble a synchronized swimming team, has real charm, but "Havin' a Hunch" sung with The Cat and a chorus of Hunches, like much of the second act seems a little off-key.

For sheer show-stopping volume though, Sharon Wilkins, as the sarcastic Sour Kangaroo, complete with hand-puppet joey, has an ample gospel voice which probably drives the sound engineer mad. At present, she has no featured number. Michele Pawk, as Mayzie La Bird, the source of Horton's egg, good as she is, has too many reprises of her strong Latin number, giving her a truly one-note part. Alice Playten, lends her unique voice to JoJo's mother , The Mayor's Wife, but has little memorable music. As The Lorax , who "speaks for the trees" she doesn't have a song, yet.

The opening (and closing) number , "Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!", has a good rousing beat, but isn't quite there yet. It even manages to evoke things "seussical" without using his title. "Dr. Seuss" is somehow absent from this show and just might be what it needs. Most of the book's problems arise from unclear storytelling. Trying to weave two unique plot lines together, while include such favorites as The Grinch, played by William Ryall and the Lorax, without a clear line of action could be fatal.

But probably not. The potential charm of the music and the enduring whimsical social commentary of Theo Geisel should bring in audiences, who may wish for more vcinatge Seuss, but will get a lot no matter how the show evolves. Just rein in The Cat-a little-and make him work harder for the show. Then play to the strengths of a remarkable diverse cast, with performers of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds who seem to really be into this Seussical musical Like its source, this farrago could be around for a long time.

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