Story: A young girl finds herself drawn into a magical world guided by the most imaginative and individual Cat in the Hat. Soon she becomes a character herself as Jojo, the daughter of the mayor of Whoville and his wife, Mrs. Mayor.
Whoville is the smallest planet in the universe, inhabiting a speck of dust that is detected by Horton the Elephant, who vows to protect the minuscule Who population. For this he is ridiculed by other animals in the jungle kingdom, led by Sour Kangaroo. Gertrude McFuzz, however, is on Horton’s side, determined to help him and also to get him to notice her, even if her one feather is rather drab.
When Jojo is sent home from school because of too many ‘thinks,’ her parents pack her off to the military, where General Genghis Khan Schmitz sends his troops into battle against an enemy that prefers its butter bread-side down. Meanwhile, Horton is talked into caring for the egg of the flighty Mayzie La Bird. Loyally he sits, day by day and month by month, waiting it for it to hatch.
What will happen to Jojo? And to Horton? And the Whos, and Gertrude, and the egg, and the Cat in the Hat? So many questions! So much in doubt!
Highlights: Mike Isaacson, artistic director and executive producer for The Muny, has assembled one of the most creative and imaginative teams in memory for The Muny’s premiere of this whimsical musical that debuted on Broadway in 2000.
Co-conceived by lyricist Lynn Ahrens, composer Stephen Flaherty (the team behind Ragtime and other Broadway hits) and Monty Python’s own Eric Idle, Seussical is a flavorful, faithful romp that pays due homage to the flights of literary and artistic fancy favored by the late Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.
Everything works impeccably in this stylish, sprightly, delightful escapade, the annual Muny children’s show that holds as much enchantment for adults as tykes.
Other Info: Director and choreographer Dan Knechtges has worked on Broadway and all across the country. He certainly knows his way around a stage, even as big a one as the sprawling version in The Muny’s amphitheater. For two hours, including intermission, he takes full advantage not only of the broad Muny stage but also the aisles that weave among the thousands of patrons.
One never knows where the spunky Cat in the Hat will wander, whether becoming a roving TV reporter, a water sprayer extraordinaire or a frisky feline helping himself to popcorn from the snack bar.
Part of the ingenuity of this production is how video designer Nathan Scheuer actually comes up with a design that has real value rather than being superfluous, as often is the case with video for stage plays. Scheuer incorporates many of Dr. Seuss’ fanciful drawings on the screen as well as techniques that expand the acting dimension of characters such as Jojo.
Knechtges’ direction masterfully encompasses not only the major characters from various Dr. Seuss stories but also cleverly adds the ensemble and The Muny Youth Chorus in visually appealing ways. As for his choreography, it’s a marvel watching players explore a number of different moves in exhilarating fashion, whether a lively jungle scene on The Biggest Blame Fool number ostracizing Horton or the amusing Green Eggs and Ham sound-off at the end of The Military number.
Rob Denton dazzlingly lights the panoramic set designed by Robert Mark Morgan that looks like an oversized and colorful Dr. Seuss book, with eye-popping costumes furnished by Leon Dobkowski accentuating the effects. Jason Krueger’s sound design adds to the overall impression, while Valerie Gebert’s musical direction of The Muny orchestra is tight and totally terrific.
Stephen Wallem is an earnest and decent and straightforward Horton, everybody’s loyal best friend. John Tartaglia is a marvel of manic motion as The Cat in the Hat, embodying the show’s buoyant spirit and ingenuity. Kirsten Wyatt is an appealing combination of yearning and heartfelt love as the plucky Gertrude McFuzz.
Julia Murney brings sass and pizzazz to the beautiful if shallow Mayzie La Bird, while Liz Mikel commands the stage whenever she’s present as the bellowing, thick-headed Sour Kangaroo, always ably assisted by her dutiful joey, Young Kangaroo, played appealingly by Chastity Jones.
St. Louisan Abigail Isom is an explosive force as the indomitable Jojo, displaying considerable range in singing and dancing as well as the fierce, individual determination of a lass who can get in trouble with her ‘thinks.’
She’s joined in her nuclear family by two other local standouts, Gary Glasgow as her rather timid father, the Mayor of Whoville, and April Strelinger as the somewhat mousy Mrs. Mayor. Another Muny veteran, James Anthony, is amusing as the blustery General Genghis Khan Schmitz.
You may not like green eggs and ham, you may not like them much at all. But Seussical, the musical, will keep you enchanted for two whole hours, and most certainly you’ll have a ball.
Company: The Muny
Venue: The Muny in Forest Park
Dates: Through July 28
Tickets: Free to $85; contact 314-534-1111 or metrotix.com
Rating: A 5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Phillip Hamer