Looking for a fun kids musical? Then head this weekend to Seussical at The Players Club of Swarthmore!
Walking into the black box theater on the second floor at the Players Club of Swarthmore, I wondered to myself how on earth were they going to pull off Seussical, in the round no less, with such limited space. Having worked on the show at a different theater in the past, I could not imagine how they were going to put on full ensemble dance numbers in the area the size of a small bedroom. Funny enough, making this comparison reminded me that a small bedroom is EXACTLY where the action of the show is SUPPOSED to take place. Seussical!, by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens and directed by Ryan Stone, brings to life our favorite Dr. Seuss characters: Horton the Elephant, The Cat in the Hat, Gertrude McFuzz, Mayzie LaBird and even the Whos come together in a family-fun musical.
The play starts with JoJo, charmingly played by Josh Atkinson, and the Cat in the Hat, the energetic and many faceted Jason Boyer (who shares the role with Matt Prince), expounding on how anything is possible when you use your imagination in the energetic opening song “Oh, The Thinks You Can Think.” As the number includes the entire company, choreographers, Tommy Bennett and Amelia SanFilippo, took advantage of every square inch, both across the stage and on top of the mobile box sets, to put on an impressive display of dance and movement.
One day Horton the Elephant, played by the sweetly understated Kevin Edward Gane, heard the shouts for help from the Whos that live in a world no bigger than a speck of dust which is flying out of control on a gust of wind. Horton saves their world by catching them on a clover and promises the Whos he will always protect them because “A person’s a person no matter how small.”
Unfortunately, the other animals from the Jungle of Nool, led by the Sour Kangaroo, played by the soulful Marianne Verlinghieri, think Horton is crazy since they can’t hear the Whos themselves. His one defender is his neighbor, Gertrude McFuzz, a one-feather-tailed bird who has a huge crush on Horton. Liat Kovnator plays Gertrude with a mixture of sweetness and moxie that audience members of all ages will be smitten with.
Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Mayor of the Whos, played impeccably uptight but lovingly worried by Jim Bloss and Renee Grant, having been assured by Horton he will protect them, switch their worried minds from the destruction of their world to their son, JoJo’s, propensity for creative thoughts. The resulting bathtub-turned-sea adventure fantasy “It’s Possible” again highlights the ability to have large ensemble numbers in confined spaces without the appearance of being cramped.
When “Amazing Mayzie”, a spunky diva bird played to flashy perfection by Dani Japhet, abandons her nest and egg with Horton, which he promises to protect, it leads to his eventual capture and imprisonment in a Florida circus. His ultimate despair leads to the surprisingly heartwarming song, Solla Sollew. The choices of everyone involved in this number, director, choreographer, musical director, performers… everyone, make this the must-see moment of the show.
With minimal sets, the scenes are established with fun, colorful props ranging from the fluffy clover to the pill berry bush to Mayzie’s “Egg, Nest, and Tree” in order to bring color and context to a stage devoid of clutter.
The lighting and sound set-ups were not very noteworthy since I imagine the small space makes options limited. The one criticism I can make is that due to the lack of microphones, the actors voices were sometimes lost when singing in their lower registers. It didn’t happen often, but I did miss a few lyrics in songs.
The costumes were on point as designed by Becky Wright. The animal outfits were more suggestions of the animals than literal copies of the variety of species. The vibrant bird and earth-toned Wickersham monkey costumes allowed their portrayers’ personalities to shine through. The Whos in their vibrant yellow and white outfits conveyed the inherent brightness of the Whos, no matter how worried they became.
Running a little over an hour with no intermission, this show is ideal for little kids. This condensed version of the full Seussical keeps the energy high and dialogue heavy scenes to a minimum. Creating interactive moments within the show also kept their attention wondering if they might be chosen to participate next. Kudos to every performer for never breaking character or timing no matter if a child was singing along or having a minor meltdown. They earned their battle pay with this one. An added bonus for the little ones is after the show, all the players come out for a meet and greet.
If you are looking for a fun activity to do with your kids this weekend, I highly recommend making one of the four remaining performances. Times and ticketing information are available at the Players Club of Swarthmore.