Seussical

Date 26th March 2019
Society University of Manchester Musical Theatre Society
Venue Council Chambers
Type of Production Musical
Director Freya Parry, Nick Bond & Maria Kolpaktchi
Musical Director Freya Parry & Dexter Drown
Choreographer Georgina Rosser
Producer Georgina Rosser

Report

Author: Kevin Proctor

‘Seussical’ is a musical blending of the renowned Dr Seuss children’s characters with ‘Horton Hears A Who’ as the pivotal plot. The idea to create this Seuss show came from Monty Python’s Eric Idle who subsequently pieced together the script for this stage interpretation. Adding tunacy to Idle's lunacy is duo, Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (composer) who, in their partnership, have treated us to such credits as ‘Ragtime’, ‘Once On This Island’, ‘Lucky Stiff’ and more recently, the musical adaptation of ‘Rocky’ (I know, I was surprised too!)   

I find that this show bears the same degrade that accompanies ‘Honk!’ in how it’s pigeonholed (and almost looked down on) as ‘a show for kids’ and is rarely given the recognition as an accomplished piece of musical theatre in its own right, criminal. On the positive side, given its premise, it’s naturally become a popular title for youth societies to present, so much so that this is the first time I’ve ever seen ‘Seussical’ performed by an adult cast. Overall, the show has enjoyed considerable success since its first professional performance in 2000, it’s certainly got its fans.  

With presentations of this show I find that the balance of sentiment and degree of silliness can often be overly excessive one way which spoils the broth, pitching this show is a tricky recipe to get right as giving us too much sweet or too much absurdity causes an overwhelming overload. Here we got heart where it was needed offset with tomfoolery almost complementing each other which was a pleasant surprise.

Of course there's the mischievous Cat in a Hat played by Hugh Summers who acts as a sort of master of ceremonies / narrator slinking in and out of the action to excellent comic effect and with an air of mystery.

Roman Armstrong plays Horton very earnestly. His stillness and composure among the chaotic energy of the other characters is endearing and affords him as much gravitas as an elephant in a nonsense story can have.

The concept grabbed me from the off, we see university students playing pupils in a school playing Seuss characters. The mayor of Whoville and his wife had their status labelled with prefect badges on their blazers. The melange of Suess characters were accompanied with school kid stereotypes, complete with school uniforms, such as the monkeys played by the fidgety kids who can’t sit still, the bird girls were the pretty princesses and the Cat in the Hat was nonother than the teacher. This also got around the issue of not having the bold and whacky set which usually towers over this show, the cast (as school kids) were using their imaginations in their classroom and so were we. The costumes are simple but effective, school uniforms with added props to signify what they were. It's clear once each character has introduced themselves that they have something to suggest their particular animal.

Choreography by Georgina Rosser was lively and efficient, the energy from this company erupted in the compact space. From where I was sitting, having the orchestra at the back of the venue was a virtuous move freeing up as much stage area as possible for this large ensemble to do their stuff. The opening number ‘The Thinks You Can Think!’ is exuberantly bright and likely to be stuck in one’s head for days, as will Horton’s recurring refrain “A person’s a person no matter how small”. The orchestra handled this score with flair, led by Dexter Drown as Musical Director. It’s packed with sprightly numbers which radiated merriment and it appeared as though the orchestra, with the cast – although at opposite ends of the room with the audience immersed between them – were having mounds of fun which is undoubtedly the most fundamental ingredient when staging this title!  

Creatively this has been a joint team effort, which is terrific if somewhat confusing. Freya Parry co-directed with Nick Bond and also co-Musical directed with Dexter Drown. We have Maria Kolpaktchi credited as Artistic Director though I’m not entirely sure how that’s any different to directing / co-directing and finally, Georgina Rosser took the helm as the only choreographer, of which there’s loads more to do than directing this piece and is also credited as Producer. This could be a recipe for disaster presenting a too many chefs scenario but regardless, the end result was terrific, I just hope the ride was as smooth as it could be to get there.     

Standout performances, other than those mentioned above, came in the form of Jordan Jones as the Sour Kangaroo who brought a touch of Frank N. Furter to the role which worked remarkably well to draw out humour and add sass for a more mature audience than intended which was wholly appreciated. The trio of Bird Girls sang superbly which deserves a specific mention. Ellie Klouda is a joy as Gertrude McFuzz, we feel her heartbreak come through during “Notice Me, Horton” – desperately seeking his affection while he’s occupied with the Whos. She sings fondly of the great lengths she’s gone to find Horton in “All for You,” although there is a nicely pitched exasperation too.  

Mayzie La Bird – played with fun-loving colour by Hebe Church – is a delightful performance, perfectly capturing the selfishness but she’s so full of lively spirit it’s hard to be annoyed with her despite her actions.

As I’ve reported previously, there were sightline issues in this venue with having the audience seated in a conventional theatre format, on the flat. Those performers who are vertically challenged or whenever anyone on stage sits or kneels down, 90% of the audience lose sight of them completely! I appreciated the choice of tall seats for whenever the cast (primarily Horton) needed to park themselves but still, the issue of this venue with this layout is far from being rectified. (side note: Should any support from NODA be required to get the ball moving towards having this damaging and repeated issue corrected please do let me know! Surely it can’t stay like this!?)

This production showed us the versatility of UMMTS, it’s not a title I’d have predicted for this company to stage as it’s far from their norm, which in itself makes it exciting for a regular visitor, yet it excelled in the brilliantly bold and bonkers world they created and ultimately awarded justice to the piece twofold.

Congratulations on another triumph!