Much like the legendary land of “Brigadoon,” there is a magical world that now and then appears in The Woodlands, Texas, and the master magician is Founder/Director, Keith Brumfield, of Class Act Productions. The latest edition from this very outstanding American youth theatre company is a dazzling and delightful, “Seussical,” with music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and based upon the works of Dr. Seuss. While the proverbial Seuss cat may be “In A Hat,” I would like to state that the cat is also “Out of the Bag”: This company is consistently brilliant in the execution of its wide repertoire of musicals.
The riotously enthusiastic Opening Night audience at the Nancy Bock Performing Arts Center, applauded the charmingly whimsical jungle set design of Jonathan Shelledy as soon as the curtain rose. Then, with fine support from Musical Director/Conductor, Rae Moses, and his talented onstage orchestra (recessed in a rainbow enclosure), our wonderful Cat (Abbey Moss) leads the players in the Seuss tribute to youthful imagination: “Oh, the Thinks You Can Think.” For clear-voiced Moss, who would skillfully preside over this amusing and thought-provoking musical journey, it was just the beginning of an ample demonstration of her vast vocal and acting skills. We have not heard the last from her! As for the opening number, the cast of over one hundred eager youngsters (from elementary to high school age) literally surrounded the audience, and dazzled it with not only a pulsing and pristine choral ensemble, but also with musical, calisthenics-style dancing (choreographer, Heidi Sweet) that was a stunning start to the show. Where do we go from here? The answer is “Up!”
In “Horton Hears A Who,” we meet the confident and solid-voiced Jimmy Dolphin as Horton, the kindly and very dependable elephant, and he has marvelous choral back-up from the Citizens of the Jungle, and the very talented Bird Girls (Nisha Balsara, Alex Cochran, Jainelle Daniels, Natalie Keiller, Erica Rascon, and Emily Weir), who shine throughout the performance, and could shine in any chorus line. Their feathery, burgundy-colored gowns are just the tip of the rich costume iceberg provided for this enormous cast by gifted designer, Sue Wilkinson. Talent clearly runs in the family as Wilkinson’s daughter, Georgia, proved repeatedly with a wonderful vocal range in her amusing role as Gertrude McFuzz, the scrawny bird longing for glamorous plumage to impress the Horton she loves. Horton, incidentally, has discovered a bit of dust that is the miniscule planet of Who— so small a planet, that Horton, who spends the balance of the show trying to convince the world of its existence, is the only one who can only hear its tiny Who inhabitants.
The “Biggest Blame Fool” number was big indeed, and teaches that wonderful Seuss lesson that “…a person’s a person, no matter how small.” We meet the song-and-dance Wickersham Brothers, Yertle the Turtle, and there is some knockout singing from Jen Barnes (who gives us a red hot mama-style Mayzie LaBird), and Sophie Chavez (whose Sour Kangaroo displayed her powerful gospel-style voice; but Chavez will need to sharpen enunciation and soften volume to be more clearly heard).
In “Here on Who,” commanding vocalist, Craig Putnam, (Mr. Mayor) and talented Alyssa Porter (Mrs. Mayor), lead an outstanding choral ensemble of the Whos (bursting with future Class Act stars). Mr. Dolphin joins in, along with Travis Meador, who gives us a robust Grinch. It is a great production number with colorful pastel costumes as bright as any sunny day, rainbow lighting (Blake Minor), and a dream-like and poignant finale.
Next we meet an exceptional talent in young Terran Swonkee as the boy, JoJo, who learns about using imagination from the Cat. In numbers like his solo, “JoJo Alone in the Universe,” we hear the unique purity of a young voice that would rival anyone in the Vienna Boys Choir. This is a youngster with great possibilities, and he proves it in the song, “It’s Possible,” full of fun and hope for the future, and featuring more great lighting to highlight the graceful ballet of the Fish. In “The Military,” General Schmitz (Will Dolphin) leads his cadets with gusto, but he experienced some microphone problems and needs to focus on improved articulation. Horton’s “Alone in the Universe” is a thoughtful look at being one’s self, and Miss Wilkinson’s solo performance of “The One Feather Tail,” was aptly described, by a woman seated near me, as “awesome.” The Cat’s “How Lucky You Are,” was yet another sensational solo that would dwarf most of what we see on “American Idol.” (The Woodland’s’ own Will Makar excepted, of course!)
The Act II circus scene, with its exotic costumes, featured a dramatic performer’s march through the audience to the stage. There were wild animals, jugglers, weight lifters, cotton candy and popcorn vendors, etc. The spectacle was only marred a bit by stage-level lights aimed into the audience, making it difficult for some to see the passing parade. Horton has patiently continued to keep his promise to sit on Mayzie’s egg, and the cast sings sweetly of an imagined land of peace and harmony, “Solla Sollew.” The spirited and ghostly “Havin’ A Hunch,” featured spooky and Fosse-style choreography for the Hunches. Wilkinson returns with a soaring and thrilling “All For You.” All ends happily when Horton hatches an Elephant Bird, and the cast sings of “One small voice in the universe that believes in you.” That would be an apt description of Brumfield’s brilliantly creative relationship with his young stars!
(The Courier 3.10.06)