As a child, and often as an adult, there is nothing better than completely losing yourself in another world. That’s exactly what happens with the colorful, energetic, wonderfully silly Seussical Jr. running through May 12 at Casa Mañana Children’s Theatre.
Seussical Jr., the shortened version of Broadway’s Seussical the Musical, which made its debut in 2000, is a major mash-up of characters and story lines from 17 books by the beloved children’s author, Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel). Composing team Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, best known for more adult musicals like Lucky Stiff, Once on This Island and Ragtime, wrote the book, lyrics and music based on an idea co-conceived with Eric Idle of Monty Python fame.
The show opens with a familiar-looking tall, red-and-white striped hat glowing in the center of the stage. An adorable curly-haired boy approaches the hat and chases it offstage, where it reappears on the head of the notorious Cat in the Hat. That’s when the fun begins, taking the duo on adventures from the Jungle of Nool to Whoville.
Jeremy Dumont takes on the duel task of director and choreographer in charge of this energetic larger-than-life cast playing people and animals. There is never a dull moment on stage—no time for the kids to get restless here with nonstop action and clever choreography, especially Dumont’s ode to 1960s beach movies in one section.
The set is a faithful tribute to Dr. Seuss’ quirky style thanks to set designer Bob Lavalee who uses every color in the rainbow to create a playground for the actors. Two large painted flats extend the set beyond the proscenium walls and helps immerse the audience into this magical land even more.
Samuel Rushen has a blast with lighting, beginning with the overture. Costume designer Tammy Spencer adds to the whimsy with her brightly colored, striped and feathered costumes. The birds have plenty of tail feathers to shake, and they take full advantage of it, particularly Mayzie (played by Avery Presson) and her entourage of almost “mean girl” birds.
Major Attaway is the standout performer, not only for his velvety deep voice, but also for his portrayal of the lovable, compassionate elephant, Horton, with the supersonic hearing and devout loyalty. You can’t help but fall in love with him as he tries to save the Whos on their dust speck planet while also caring for Mayzie’s abandoned egg after she gets bored sitting on her nest and flies the coop.
As the Cat in the Hat, Brendan Cyrus is more than up to the agile antics as well as the multiple characters the Cat portrays. As the Cat’s partner in imagination, Tristin Thomas is a delightful Jojo and clearly having a blast traversing the Seuss landscape singing with a flawless, sweet voice.
Additional standouts include Aubrey Adams as the nerdish, plumage-challenged Gertrude McFuzz and Kia Dawn Fulton, who brings her impressive set of pipes to the sassy, bluesy Sour Kangaroo. The Wickersham Brothers, Maurice Johnson, Ashton Miramontes and Cannon Wise have a fun piece of choreography with flashlight beams bouncing over the audience and off the silver dome.
Music Director Sheilah Walker takes the show through an impressive list of songs and tempos, including “Oh, the Thinks You Can Think,” “It’s Possible” and “Amazing Mayzie.”
From the creative costumes and choreography to whimsical touches like helium-filled fish balloons, Seussical Jr. has the perfect tone, pace and energy to pay homage to one of the world’s most innovative children’s authors. In the words of the Cat in the Hat himself: “This ain’t Mother Goose.”