By Patricia Hall, FairfaxFamilyFun.com
Colorful, wacky, funny, and fun, the classic stories by Dr. Seuss have delighted generations of readers. Bring some of those stories and overlap them in a stage production, and what you get is a vibrant show that brings back great memories.
Seussical the Musical, playing now through December 20, 2015, at NextStop Theatre in Herndon, is based on the Broadway musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. Now a popular production among local theatres and student groups, chances are good you have seen this show before. I have as well, but honestly, this was by far my favorite rendition of it.
Despite the theatre’s small size and stage– NextStop shows take place in an intimate, 100-seat venue – productions here always seem to be cleverly executed. Props are limited and sets are only slightly changed, relying on clever re-use of materials, creative costumes, and imaginative acting to move the story along.
The set is bright, cheerful, and totally “Seussical,” including a giant version of the Cat in the Hat’s iconic red-and-white chapeau. The outfits are fun and provide enough visual cues for you to know who is who while still letting you see the actors’ full faces and expressions. There are a few surprises, too – look for the fun “fish” created from what appears to be paper lanterns.
As to the story itself, most of the musical is based on storylines from Horton Hears a Who, Horton Hatches the Egg, and Gertrude McFuzz, with references to other Dr. Seuss works including Yertle the Turtle and McElligot’s Pool, and The Cat in the Hat as the narrator. (In fact, because of the overlapping of stories and the “cameos” that some characters make, it might be a good idea to re-read some of these works with your children prior to the show to help them better follow along while watching the musical).
A stand-out for us was Matthew Thompson. As Horton, he portrays the elephant with all the heart and passion you’ll remember from the story. Determined – but also tender and vulnerable – he endears himself to the role in a way audience members of any age will find very sweet.
One nice touch: the scene where Horton is frantically looking for his “speck of dust,” which could be on any of the clovers that surround him, takes place right before intermission. As the lights came on and people ushered out into the lobby for refreshments, some kids came up to “Horton,” still sitting on the floor going through the clovers, wanting to help. Thompson let them look, too, staying in character the whole time.
Other main characters in the show include Katie McManus as the Sour Kangaroo, Jaclyn Young as Gertrude, and Allie Lytle as Mazie LaBird. Mean, loud, and quite the bully, the Sour Kangaroo picks on our sweet Horton and encourages others to do mock him. It doesn’t sound like a very likeable creature, but McManus manages to bring a certain charm to the role. Helping her is the most adorable Young Kangaroo, toddler Miles HoffmaNn (son of artistic director Evan HoffmaNn), who shows how comfortable he is on stage already with his limited – but adorable and on-cue — “Humpf!”
As Gertrude, Young displays a sweet charm and an important story about loving yourself for who you are. Lytle brings a lot of humor as the quirky and flighty – and not very responsible – Mazie. Rounding out the main characters are Ben Cherington as a graceful and energetic Cat in the Hat and Erik Peyton as the nice boy to whom the Cat relates all the stories.
But this is by no means all the cast – there are many, many more, playing characters from several Dr. Seuss books. This is the second year that NextStop Theatre has invited talented youth to perform in its holiday production. The cast of Seussical features not just professional actors, directors, and designers but also dozens of local young actors in third through eleventh grades. In fact, there are more than 30 actors, at some points in the program with all (or nearly all) on stage.
Considering the small theatre size and stage, it’s quite a feat to fit them all, but it works out well, and it further adds to the cozy feel of the show, especially if you are in the front rows. The children did a great job and seemed to have a great time. My son, who enjoyed the show, said that a couple of them were “off-key” – something I hadn’t noticed, but his observation made me realize a couple of things: (1) he is truly learning what to listen for thanks to regular music class at school, and (2) he is becoming a more attentive patron of the arts, not just a kid watching a show.
AND REMEMBER, WE ARE GIVING AWAY TICKETS! One winner will receive four free tickets to the Saturday, Dec. 19, show at 7 pm. Enter by commenting on our original post by 11 pm on Tuesday, Dec. 15!
Disclaimer: My family received a set of tickets to review this show. All opinions expressed in this post are my own.