November 9, 2005
“Seussical: The Musical” began its run last week at Hood River Valley High School’s Bowe Theatre with all the energy, color and zaniness you would expect from a Dr. Seuss-inspired play.
“After three years of heavy, gothic themes – Jane Eyre/Jekyll & Hyde, Les Miserables -- we thought it was time to do something lighter and more family friendly,” director Mark Steighner says.
The musical is full of bright color and lively music in a broad range of styles, including funk, blues, ragtime, rock, pop and torch songs. And at its core is the genius of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.
“Seussical” opened on Broadway in 2000 and after a relatively short run, toured the country twice. Now the musical has become very popular with school, community and regional theaters. It was conceived by Eric Idle, of Monty Python fame, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty; the latter two (who also wrote the Tony award-winning musical, “Ragtime”) wrote the story and lyrics.
Ahrens and Flaherty managed to weave together material from more than a dozen of the 44 books Geisel published during his 87-year lifetime. Well-known characters like Horton, the Whos, and the Grinch join lesser-knowns such as the Sour Kangaroo, Gertrude McFuzz, and General Ghengis Khan Schmitz, in a story set in familiar Seuss scenes: the Jungle of Nool, Circus McGurkus, and others.
The basic story -- sort of a blend of “Horton Hears a Who” and “Horton Hatches the Egg,” with many characters and phrases from other books -- follows the trials and tribulations of Jojo, a young Who from Whoville, (Elijah Maletz), and Horton the Elephant (Joel Valle), both misunderstood in their respective worlds.
Acting as a kind of guide through the scenes is the Cat in the Hat, played by Kelsey Brauer. The troublemaking cat also complicates Jojo’s life by encouraging the imaginative thinking that always gets the boy in trouble.
Big-hearted Horton is ridiculed for believing there is life on a speck of dust and for being silly enough to sit on an egg.
Steighner describes the set design as “minimal,” but says that costuming the dozens of actors was a large task. He credits parent volunteers Kelli Wade, LaJuana Decker, Kathy Peldyak and designers at Helen’s Pacific Costumes in Portland with most of the effort.
The musical is suitable for all ages. Steighner describes a reaction one child had to The Cat in the Hat (played by Kelsey Brauer) after a performance for kids.
“She went up to Kelsey and asked, ‘Are you the real Cat in the Hat?’” he says, imitating the child’s breathless excitement. “Kelsey answered that she was, and the child said, ‘I’ve seen BOTH of your movies!’”
Performances remaining include Nov. 11, 12, 18 and 19 at 7 p.m., and Nov. 12 and 19 at 1:30 p.m. Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for students, and are available at Waucoma Books and at the door.