SEUSSICALMusic by Stephen Flaherty, Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, Book by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty
CenterStage Theatre Works
Directed by – Charlotte Taylor
Assistant Directors – Alison Kingwell and Thomas Schnaible
Music Director – Marquis McBride
Choreographers – Regan Ellis, Sarah Hendrick, and Noel Nieczyporowicz
Stage Manager – Emily Denner
Technical Director – Kiersten Esposito
Costume Designer – Alison Kingwell
Prop Master – Rachel Sullivan
Cat in the Hat - Thomas Schnaible*, Grace Everett
Thing 1 - Ian Taylor*, Lorien Lovell
Thing 2 - Mason Buehner*, Ian Taylor
Horton The Elephant - Nick Merritt*, Brian Sullivan
Gertrude McFuzz - Avery Murphy*, Brooke Riley
Mayzie LaBird - Asa Woo*, Emilia Ordoñez
Sour Kangaroo - Katie Purdin*, Hannah Swain
Young Kangaroo - Lucy Sullivan*, Alice Sullivan
The Bird Girls – Allison Marshall*, Noel Nieczyporowicz*, Ellie Nunemaker*, and Grace Philipbar*
The Wickersham Brothers – Brutus Fowler*, Matthew MacGregor*, Hayden Stewart*, and Reid Vosberg*
Vlad Vladikoff – Riley Frauenheim*, Brandon Carnes
Jojo - Audrey Murphy*, Chloe Stovall
Mr. Mayor - Christian Merritt*, Quinton Coulonge
Mrs. Mayor - Atlas Morgan*, Jamie Gutzler
General Genghis Khan Schmitz - Brandon Carnes*
The Grinch - Zack Delaney*
Yertle the Turtle - Landon Blanton*
Who Ensemble – Deepti Aravapelli, Landon Blanton*, Brooke Bott*, Brandon Carnes*, Quinton Coulonge*, Zack Delaney*, Joann Dodson*, Riley Frauenheim*, Jamie Gutzler*, Christian Merritt, Atlas Morgan, Audrey Murphy, Mizuki Nelson*, Susan O’Brien*, Chloe Stovall*, Brian Sullivan*, Hannah Swaim*
Swing for almost every role except the Cat in the Hat – Emily Denner
*Performed at the reviewed performance.
Reviewed Performance: 7/21/2022
Reviewed by Carol M. Rice, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Thomas Schnaible seems to burst with energy as the (in)famous Cat in the Hat! He is not only our narrator, but also the impetus for the action, and he draws us all into the story, which is a mash-up of many of Dr. Seuss’s more popular stories. For example, Horton the Elephant, played winningly by Nick Merritt, not only hears a Who but also hatches an egg! Mr. Merritt not only has a sweet singing voice but also provides genuine emotion about his friends, the Whos, and the egg he has unwittingly inherited.
Horton is secretly adored by his next-door neighbor Gertrude McFuzz, a plain little bird who has a single feather for a tail, much to her chagrin. With her strong voice and a good handle on Gertrude’s full gamut of emotions, Avery Murphy is simply adorable and fun to watch. She is frequently surrounded by “The Bird Girls,” who are somewhat like the Supremes to her Diana Ross. They are played by Noel Nieczyporowicz, Allison Marshall, Ellie Nunemaker, and Grace Philipbar in brightly colored costumes and wigs, each with her own personal flair. These ladies harmonize and dance beautifully and are simply a joy to watch. The other bird in the show, Mayzie LaBird, played by Asa Woo, is also brightly colored (and would probably consider herself the Diana Ross of the group), with a big, beautiful tail. Her character is vain and self-centered, and Ms. Woo carries it off effortlessly.
The companions to The Bird Girls are The Wickersham Brothers, played perfectly by Matthew MacGregor, Reid Vosberg, Brutus Fowler, and Hayden Stewart. You might recall that in the book they’re mischievous monkeys, but here they look more like a cool boy band, complete with multi-colored blazers and shades, harmonies, and some fun choreography. In most productions I’ve seen of SEUSSICAL, The Wickersham Brothers are almost throwaway roles, but thankfully director Charlotte Taylor expanded their stage time and gave them – and The Bird Girls – a lot more to do. These two groups included my personal favorite performances.
The Whos are led by Mr. and Mrs. Mayor, portrayed by Christian Merritt and Atlas Morgan, and their son Jojo, played by Audrey Murphy. Ms. Murphy, like the Cat in the Hat’s Mr. Schnaible, has tons of energy and at times seems to be almost bouncing off the walls, yet she has some introspective moments that she handles very well, too. As her stodgy parents, Mr. Merritt and Ms. Morgan come across as both strict and kind of dingy, i.e., just as they should. Jojo has too many things, which frequently get him in trouble, so they send him to military school.
I have to say that I love the fact that SEUSSICAL includes references to the little-known story, The Butter Battle Book, not only because it’s such a bizarre reference, but because it adds still one more layer of subtext to the piece. And for the leader of the Who Army to be called General Genghis Khan Schmitz is simply genius! The General is pompously portrayed by Brandon Carnes.
For those of us familiar with Horton Hears a Who, the tale wouldn’t be complete without The Sour Kangaroo and her young offspring. Katie Purdin KILLS IT every time she sings, and Lucy Sullivan plays her mini-me perfectly. The two don’t have a lot of stage time, but they stand out when they do! And Ms. Purdin’s costume is stunning! Costume Designer Alison Kingwell did a phenomenal job overall, but she outdid herself on this one.
While all of the leads are exceptional in this production, SEUSSICAL wouldn’t be complete without the Who Ensemble. This is a large, talented bunch of actors, dancers, and singers (and set movers) who completely function as a unit. I didn’t see anyone trying to steal focus, yet everyone stood out in their own way. That’s hard to accomplish, so kudos to everyone!
Speaking of set movers, the Cox Playhouse is a simple black box currently configured as a thrust. This means that lighting is difficult and there is little to no backstage space and nowhere to store set pieces. That said, somehow this production manages to utilize a large number of brightly colored boxes, seemingly appearing out of nowhere, for pretty much their entire set. The one exception is the “tree” on which Mayzie lays her egg and Horton sits on, and then they’ve managed to create an entire treehouse that moves on and off! While no set designer is listed in the program, I assume the applause for this must go to Technical Director Kiersten Esposito.
Because of the uncomplicated set, the characters, choreography, and costumes are really able to shine. Ms. Kingwell’s bright color choices for Horton and Gertrude’s world contrast brilliantly with the black and white tones of Whoville. And don’t get me wrong – just because they’re black and white doesn’t mean they’re boring! Ms. Kingwell has managed to create an exciting bunch of patterns and styles for all the Whovians. I only wish the military uniforms were also black and white to keep it consistent.
One other aspect of the show I HAVE to bring up is the McElligot’s Pool song and sequence. The fish puppets are stunning! Again, the program doesn’t list the puppet maker, but the prop designers are listed as Deepti Aravapelli and Rachel Sullivan. I also have to say that I feel for future generations who won’t fully understand this song because the book has been pulled from publication...but that’s another story.
Director Charlotte Taylor, along with music director Marquis McBride and choreographers Regen Ellis, Sarah Hendrick, and Noel Nieczyporowicz, has truly put together a wonderful evening of theatre. If you just take the show at face value, you’ll come away having had a great time and humming some of the tunes. If you look deeper, you’ll see that this fun piece of fluff – like Dr. Seuss’s original books – goes deeper than that. You may come away thinking about an elephant being bullied for thinking differently than those around him, a bird who thinks her tail isn’t pretty enough to get noticed, or a kid who’s misunderstood because he thinks too much. Either way, you look at it, I think you’ll enjoy this show and highly recommend it. SEUSSICAL only runs through July 30 and seating is limited, so don’t delay!
CenterStage Theatre Works
CenterStage Theatre Works
Cox Playhouse, 1517 H Avenue, Plano, TX 75074
Runs through July 30
Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30, Saturdays at 2:30 and 7:30, Sundays at 2:30 and 7:30
Tickets are $10.00 - $16.00
For information and to purchase tickets, go to https://www.cstheatreworks.com/ or call the box office at (972) 521-8325.