Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The musical interweaves familiar characters from Theodore Geisel's Seuss books, including the Cat in the Hat who serves as the show's narrator, and Horton the Elephant, and even has a cameo from the Grinch from "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas." The musical's main plot focuses on Horton the Elephant who hears voices coming from a speck of dust, which he discovers are a group of people called Whos. No one believes Horton, but he decides to protect the Whos as best as he can. One of the Whos, a young boy named JoJo, struggles to find his place amongst the Who society, while Gertrude McFuzz, a bird with only one feather on her tail, tries to get Horton's attention since she is in love with him. These three characters have plenty of mishaps and adventures as they seek to find their place in the world.
The show was conceived by Monty Python's Eric Idle and the songwriting team of Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (music), and they do a fairly good job combining the characters and plots from the different books into a cohesive story. However, there are several subsidiary plot points and characters in the show's book by Idle and Ahrens that pad the show and, unfortunately, take the focus at times off of the plight of both Horton and JoJo. Fortunately, Flaherty's music is varied and memorable, and the humorous lyrics by Ahrens play off of Seuss' famous and fun rhyme schemes.
The cast of talented teens and youngsters does a wonderful job bringing the well-known Seuss literary characters to life. With an impish wink in his eye, Jaden Roesch is playfully mischievous as the Cat in the Hat. Roesch exhibits a warm connection with the rest of the cast and delivers some high-flying acrobatic leaps and jumps as well. As Horton the Elephant, William Lovell is warm, lovable, compassionate and caring. Luca Grasso is wonderful as JoJo in one of the most professional portrayals from an actor of his age that I've seen in a youth production. The duet that he has with Lovell, "Alone in the Universe," is beautifully sung and exceptionally moving. With a bright singing voice and a sunny disposition, Olivia Fearey is charming and winning as Gertrude McFuzz.
In smaller roles, Colette Davis is humorous as the self-centered Mayzie LaBird, who tricks Horton into sitting on her egg to keep it warm while she goes on vacation. Harrison Rosenberg and Cammie Roberts are bright and loving, yet also stern, as JoJo's parents. Xander Zeeb is great as General Schmitz, who oversees the military school JoJo's parents send him to, and Rosa Piña is sassy as the Sour Kangaroo, who doesn't believe that Horton hears the Whos. The large ensemble appears to be having a lot of fun creating a wide range of supporting characters.
Director Bobb Cooper makes sure there is a sense of imagination and zany playfulness in the production, which are both major components of the Seuss books, without ever losing sight of the show's main theme–that everyone matters, no matter how small. Nathalie Velasquez's choreography is fun, varied, and well danced by the large cast. Music director Mark Feary derives rich vocals from the cast. While the set is a rental, it, along with the enchanting and creative costumes by Karol Cooper and the rich lighting design from Jeff A. Davis, evokes the colorful, wacky, and crazy characters and world that are well-known from the Seuss book illustrations.
With a winning cast, wonderful direction, and creative elements that are dripping with color and imagination, VYT's production of Seussical is a crowd pleaser, but it's also a show with an enormous heart and an abundance of love.
Seussical runs through August 28, 2022, at Valley Youth Theatre at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe Street, Phoenix AZ. For tickets and information, please call 602-252-8497 or visit http://www.vyt.com/home.
Director: Bobb Cooper