I thought I should write this entire review in that sing-songy, Dr. Seussian meter, but I’m honestly not that ambitious.
Ambition, however, is something my friends in the Sherburne Music Theatre Society do not lack. In honor of the community theater group’s 40th anniversary this summer, the intrepid thespians didn’t just stage a simple one-act play or trot out an old familiar chestnut – they went full-bore and picked “Seussical: The Musical.”
Now that’s ambition.
Despite an affinity for The Once-ler (Grinch is far too obvious, though I did always like the notion of having a heart full of unwashed socks), I’ve never been the biggest Dr. Seuss fan. At least not since I was six. But when I heard the SMTS was staging the recent, but surprisingly ill-fated Broadway musical (made famous, probably, by Rosie O’Donnell’s infamous involvement), I was pretty impressed.
I was more impressed by director Donna Moren’s stellar effort in pulling the whole thing off with aplomb. Aided by a talented crew on-stage and off, “Seussical” is not only a great local take on a full-scale Broadway musical, but also a fitting celebratory production for SMTS’ 40th anniversary this year.
I’ve apparently become accustomed to seeing only high school productions in my years doing these reviews, so that’s probably why, as I sat through the first few minutes of dress rehearsal Wednesday night, I thought, “Who are all these old guys?”
That’s the beauty of a community theater production – that cross-generational talent. Rather than drawing from a high school pool, the community theater troupe – especially evident in “Seussical” – ranges in age from seven decades to, well, none. Staging a musical with such a varied cast is also a crafty way to fill the house, and with about 456 Who-kids on stage at any given time, it’s bound to be crowded.
But get in there! Combining 13 of Dr. Seuss’ best-loved books, “Seussical” is a charming tale weaving the late author’s inspirational and thought-provoking tales with an impressive musical score and more than a dash of topical humor. Stitching it all together, and frequently leaving the audience in stitches, is everyone’s favorite feline, The Cat in the Hat, played to sheer comedic perfection here by Ariel Eliaz. Even the small test audience I saw the play with on Wednesday was rolling in the aisles every time Eliaz appeared on stage. It’s a star turn. There’s a “stars upon thars” reference to be made here somewhere, but again, I’m not that ambitious.
James Moren plays little Jojo, the mischievous “thinker of thinks” whose imagination frequently gets him into trouble. Young Mr. Moren is himself a star in the making, giving a particularly impressive performance in the number, “Alone in the Universe.”
Jojo’s counterpart in the non-Who world is the faithful elephant, Horton - he of course who believes that “a person is a person, no matter how small.” Tom Lemery looms large in this role, commanding the stage with a mix of lovability and sadness. Krysta Nower shines as Horton’s admirer, Gertrude McFuzz, a simple bird who’s jealous of the flashier plumage of Mayzie LaBird (the always chirpy Ellen Fagan).
Other standout roles include Michael Moren (who also arranged the show’s music) as the Mayor of Whoville, and Horton’s loudmouthed nemesis Sour Kangaroo, played to the hilt by Shari Taylor.
I had a brief chat with Donna Moren during intermission (directors always think their shows are worse off than they really are), and I was impressed not only by her aforementioned ambition in staging “Seussical,” but also in her sincere belief in its message. Woven through the Seuss oeuvre is a recurring theme of indulging in your imagination and reveling in your own uniqueness. That’s a message that comes across brilliantly in “Seussical.”
So, all you Whos down in Whoville, while you’re waiting for my Grinch-like heart to grow three sizes, take a trip up to Sherburne tonight or tomorrow at 7 p.m. or Sunday at 2, to see the Sherburne Music Theatre Society’s 40th anniversary production of “Seussical: The Musical.” Tickets will be available at the door. And save me some of that Who Roastbeast!