“Seussical” : Yes, It’s Fun

Jaime Kleiman liked "Seussical" at the Childrens Theater, and was reminded that theater can be a gas.


To judge Seussical solely on its artistic merit is to sort of miss the point. Young children filed into the Children’s Theatre, beloved Seuss books Horton Hears a Who! and The Cat in the Hat firmly in hand. They sat transfixed (i.e., quietly) as the zany musical unfolded before them. It was nice to be reminded of why anyone goes to the theatre in the first place: it’s fun.

Seussical is, from a child’s point of view, a pretty good time. The plot, in all its child-pleasing confusion, is a nonsensical potpourri of various Seuss tales crammed into one 90-minute show. The story is centered on Horton the Elephant (Reed Sigmund) and his stubborn loyalty to the teeny, invisible Whos who live on a speck of dust. Everyone in the Jungle of Nool thinks he’s a nut job. Unfortunately for Horton, during the second act he agrees to sit on his neighbor’s egg for over a year, enforcing everyone’s opinion that the good-hearted elephant has a moldy peanut for a brain. Throw in a love story, some goofy puppets who represent the Whos, and Helen Q. Huang’s colorful, inventive costumes, and you’ve got a guaranteed hit, as well as excellent merchandising opportunities.

The big musical numbers pull stylistically from gospel as well as shows like Sweet Charity and Cats, innocuous enough for the kiddies and amusing enough for adults. Autumn Ness at Mayzie, the reluctant mother who passes off her egg to Horton, brings down the house with her flamboyant dancing and prancing. Jessie Shelton, who plays the lovesick Gertrude McFuzz, infuses her insecure, Horton-coveting role with vocal sincerity and precise comic timing. After taking pills to make her tail plumage stand out from the crowd—a kid-appropriate knock off of A Chorus Line’s “Dance Ten, Looks Three,” if ever there was one—Gertrude gives up and returns to her old aesthetic, puny tail feathers and all. Naturally, Horton and Gertrude hook up in the end.

The clever choreography by Matthew Howe (who also directed) does not disguise the fact that the Tony Award-winning creators of Ragtime, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, have written a show that is primarily derivative. No Seuss staging would be complete without quotes from the books, but it often feels like direct quotes were used an excuse to avoid having the characters do or say anything interesting. Sigmund as Horton doesn’t help matters much; his Horton is sweet but lacks the intensity to keep the show on track. The first act in particular is weighted down by too many ballads and lack of narrative drive. The second act fares much better with its swifter pace, and the shift in focus from Horton to Gertrude and Mayzie.

Huang’s set feels functional rather than resourceful; next to her iridescent blue monkey costumes and bright bird plumage, the stairs and slopes of the set are overly large and not engaging. This means that it’s up to the performers to wiggle their way up and around a design that doesn’t help them out. Everyone time the chorus of Bird Girls shimmied up the stairs Supremes-style, I was afraid someone would trip. The eight-member orchestra included percussion, woodwinds, keyboards, a trumpet, and a guitar. Their playing was flawless and had an enthusiasm that matched the performers note for note.

This season, the Children’s Theatre Company has produced shows for children and teenagers with excellent production values that don’t talk down to their demographic. Seussical is no different. Granted, the source material for Seussical is not on par with Mark Twain’s Huck Finn—which received its world premiere in March at CTC—but there’s a reason why Dr. Seuss’s books have longevity. The worlds he created and the characters that inhabit them are outrageous, yet oddly true to life. The parents and children who come to the Children’s Theatre are collecting some life-affirming, unforgettable experiences of their own.

”Seussical” runs through June 17 at the Children’s Theatre Company, 2400 3rd Ave. S., Mpls. For tickets call 612.874.0400.