Friday, October 13, 2006

Theater Blogging

I went out and caught Seussical last night with Vicki. It was a scream. Given how much fun we had, I have to do a response to the tepid review in the DI.
The Cat in the Hat never quite did it for me. No, I'd have to say that he was my least favorite character of the whole Dr. Seuss bunch. It was just a hunch that I'd like the full, complete Dr. Seuss show, so I decided to give it a go.
In other words, "I hate the Cat in the Hat but I think I'll go to the show any way, in case I like it. And even if I don't, I can use my reviewer powers to eviscerate the performances. There's no downside. Sweet!"
Oh, the places one walks in the land of imagination, especially if the imagination were that of Dr. Seuss in Seussical the Musical, which runs all weekend in the City Circle Acting Company production at the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington.

Sparked by Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat, Horton Hears a Who, along with short bits of Green Eggs and Ham and Red Fish, Blue Fish, One Fish, Two Fish, Seussical rolls about examining those crazy thinks one can think.

However, the script was not written by Seuss, and the inevitable failings that come with attempting to imitate a master muddle the texture.

Translation: "It could have been a good script, if you'd have gotten Seuss himself to write it." Well, duh. Of course, he has long since made his appearance on Dead Pool rosters, but we'll go with that as a valid critique.
Emcee The Cat in the Hat, played by UI theater and vocal performance major Ben Bentler, only aid the disorder.
That's rather the point of the Cat in the Hat. He creates chaos, don't you remember? Oh, that's right. You hated him.
The musical's story follows Horton the elephant, who discovers and tries to rescue the almost-invisible Whos of Whoville. The Whos, most memorable in The Grinch Whole Stole Christmas, live on a planet smaller than a dash of paprika. When Horton finds them, he places the planet on a clover and strikes up a conversation with Jojo, the overly imaginative Who son of Mr. Mayor and Mrs. Mayor. As the lovable elephant becomes increasingly preoccupied with what looks like a "tiny speck," he draws negative attention from his fellow jungle dwellers. This conflict flings Horton into a rather perplexing story. I can only imagine the tangled thoughts of the children in the audience.
Are we still on that whole "the script sucks 'cause Seuss didn't write it" thing? Okay, get over it. Also, what do you mean, perplexing? The stories were familiar, often taken word for word from the books themselves, it was just tied together into one big production. Haven't you ever noticed before that the Whos of the Grinch were on the dust speck saved by Horton? I got that one at six years of age. In my mind, they were tied together a bit differently, and I wouldn't have thought to combine them with the Butter Battle book or McGillicot's Pool, but to do so without losing the essence of any of the stories was probably quite difficult. Regardless, to anyone familiar with the original books, as most kids are, it's not hard to follow at all. The kids I sat near were enthralled and left the theater asking when they could come back again. My only wish, if I'd written it: More Lorax, please. Other than a brief mention of the Truffula trees, he wasn't to be seen. Regardless, I'm not holding City Circle responsible for that.
Horton's neighbor, Gertrude McFuzz, played by Amanda Murray, is Horton's secret admirer, helping him defend the Whos while dealing with her own self-esteem problems, which derive from her lack of an adequate tail-feather. This sweet blue bird ends up being by far the gem of the cast. Her lovesick anxiety for Horton is endearing, and Murray's charming voice fit the part of a shy bird perfectly. The one-feathered bird catapults the story's focus from Jojo and his family in Whoville to the love tale of Horton the elephant and Gertrude, the blue love bird.
Horton and Gertrude's little romance is the central story of the montage, and I'm glad you recognized what an awesome performance Amanda puts in as Gertrude. It's fantastic to watch, every little gesture is just perfect for the shy, awkward little Gertrude. I'd never thought you could fit that big a voice into such a reticent little character (Amanda absolutely rocks, as you might recall from My Fair Lady), but it totally works.
Murray, a student pursuing a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, is perfectly matched by Christopher Carpenter in the role of the slightly older elephant who is too busy helping everyone to find his mate in Gertrude. Although they don't sing a duet until the end of the show, their two voices make Seussical worthwhile.
Can't disagree here.
While the musical is clearly performed by community-theater regulars, the cast is laced with a better-than-average crew of leading performers. The ensemble chorus chimes in whimsically, while that crazy cat and his damn hat seek to contaminate and confuse everyone.
"[C]learly performed by community-theater regulars?" Ooh, I think that's meant to be snide. 1) Yep, it's community theater. Got a problem with that? 2) Do you really want to know the number of people in the cast with significant theater credentials and degrees? I'd be careful about assumptions if I were you. 3) Since "better than average" seems like your idea of a compliment, I'll go with that.
The notion that imagination should take a back seat is brought up throughout the show, as Jojo and his feline co-narrator slide up and around Seuss' dream world. What Jojo and the rest of his Who community realize is that the world of imagination should not be locked up.
(This is known as the "prove you can recognize the overarching theme of the piece" portion of the article).
The performance addresses mainly the children in the audience, every so often admitting rougher themes, including child abandonment and war. Mayzie the Bird (UI junior Rachel Scott) has what one would call an ecstasy-filled three weeks of fun, which leaves her knocked-up and sitting on an egg. However, those pink feathers could never be expected to settle down on a nest, so Mayzie ditches her egg in favor of more fertilization in Palm Beach.

Talk of war adds another serious note. Jojo is sent away by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Mayor, after indulging in unacceptable behavior - thinking - and ends up at a kind of military camp for abandoned kids. Jojo then leaves his troops, shouting his disapproval of unjust wars.
Seuss is political?!? *Gasp*
The plot gets lost in the muddle of political statements and disorienting songs and characters. Throughout the show, the most perplexingly useless character is that of the Sour Kangaroo, who lives in a jungle with her gang of miscreants. The craziness of the Sour Kangaroo's jungle, compared with the much more successful story of Gertrude and Horton's love, highlights some of the problems in this messy script.
Hold on a minute. You're seriously advocating the story of Horton without the Kangaroo, or the jungle? That's not an issue with the script, it's an issue with the original story. And who, precisely, would you have had play the antagonist in that piece? The clover? The Kangaroo and the Wickersham brothers are not only essential to the plot, they're icons. Don't you even vaguely recall the whole "boil that dust speck" chant from the old television special? And a side note: the rendition of Biggest Blame Fool in the first act was awesome. Meghann was spot on, with a sassy attitude and that hand puppet for a baby kangaroo. And Rod, Michael and Tom all dressed up in black and red pimp outfits? I couldn't stop laughing. Kids three rows away were staring at the crazy lady. Oh, and they play it up. They pose. They slink. Sometimes simultaneously. It's freaking hilarious.
The beginning and ending numbers could have been better executed, as could have most of the ensemble songs, but the solos, duets, and sidebar chorus songs dance rhythmically in the audience members' heads.
More information please? I thought it was fairly consistent from beginning to end, with gorgeous costuming and nicely executed choreography.
Large group scenes aside, the Horton and Gertrude story line carry the show; their relationship touches the hearts of children, parents, and students alike.
Chris as Horton was fantastic, and I love that whole trumpet effect. He completely rocked the songs, too. I think I saw a kid cry when he was singing Solla Sollew.

Okay, now for some bits the articles didn't touch on:

1) Chris O. as General Genghis Kahn Schmitz?! Oh my god, that's funny. Not only was his perfomance fantastic, but the casting . . . I just about died.

2) Patty McTaggert and Jim Verry as the Mayor and his wife. Complete with Carol Channing hair. Completely hilarious, great performances - the side bits just made the characters. And have I mentioned the hair? BTW - total props to Misty, I'm told she did all the hair, wigs and all. How do you do it girl?

3) In the "Horton in the Circus" scene, watching Deone try to juggle scarves with big honking glasses on, knowing damn well that with the lights and all she can't see a thing.

4) In the scene where all the Whos come out bandaged up because the clover with the dust speck on it had gotten tossed around, Ellen bandaged . . . her hair. She hurt her hair. LOL. And the sheer volume of bandages - I think City Circle might be putting "toilet paper" on its wish list this year.

5) Rachel's Maize rocks. And she has lots of grown-up jokes that, again, caused me to about lose it and the kids nearby to fear for my sanity.

6) Omigod, those eyelashes.

7) In the scene where Amanda's Gertrude goes to the doctor to get a tail implant, the Bird Girls are all in these short little nurse's outfits, cracking gum, with these jaded looks. Again, I don't think the kids got what I was laughing at. But that time it was okay, they were laughing at Amanda's sound effects as she ate more and more pills to make her tail bigger and bigger, turning her into the bird equivalent of Pamela Anderson. And when she comes back after the "botched" tail job. . . priceless.

8) Ben coming out for the first time as the Cat in the Hat, with the Cat looking somewhat like the emcee from Cabaret. Omigod that was good. And the scene where he's down in the pit with the orchestra? Totally better than Bugs Bunny, dude.

9) Ron as f*cked-up Santa.

So, hey, that's my take. Which has totally killed two hours off the eight in which I've told myself I must, must, must write a script for the new play festival. So I'm not allowed to blog anymore today. But go catch the show this weekend:

Seussical the Musical

Book by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty
Co-Conceived by Eric Idle
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Directed by Jeff Shields

Oct 5, 6, 7, 8 and 12, 13, 14*, 15
Thu at 7 pm, Fri/Sat at 8 pm, Sun at 2 pm
* two shows on Oct 14, 2 pm and 8 pm

Englert Civic Theatre
Downtown Iowa City

Following in the footsteps of our hit A Year with Frog and Toad, we are
again working with the Children's Museum to provide quality entertainment for children of all ages!

Seussical the Musical is the whimsical musical adaptation of the works of Dr. Seuss, beloved children's book author and illustrator. Audiences will be delighted as their favorite Seuss characters, such as Horton the Elephant and the Cat in the Hat, will spring to vibrant musical life on the Englert Stage.

In addition, all summer long at the Iowa Children's Museum, children and families can watch as the Seussical Set is built from the ground up and even participate in the decoration and design. "We are providing an opportunity for all of the community to have an active role in this show," says Chris Okiishi, producer of the show. "Everyone who visits the museum over the summer can see their work eventually on the Englert stage."

Sure to be a sellout, tickets will be available at the Englert Box Office starting in April. Creating Seussical at the Iowa Children's Museum opens June 2006.

More details at the City Circle website.

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