“Oh, the thinks you can think when you think about Seuss!”
This Christmas season, “Seussical the Musical” rings in holiday cheer at Port Orchard’s Western Washington Center for the Arts when the Cat in the Hat, Horton the Elephant, Jojo, Whos, Hunches and characters galore jump from the pages of beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss and onto the stage to sing and dance in a two-hour extravaganza.
Based on the works of Dr. Seuss — the pen name for Theodor Seuss Geisel — “Seussical” promises to thaw the coldest Grinch heart (“You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch,” growls this columnist) with a large ensemble cast, director, crew and volunteers who have worked their collective Whos off to stage this show that will delight Seuss-o-philes of all ages.
This show puts “community” back into community theater, drawing from a remarkable pool of local talent: thespian veterans, aspiring stars, neophyte child actors and boomers dedicated to bringing to life Seuss’ wild menagerie.
“This is a really entertaining and fun musical that uses the cast in fun and magical ways,” said Rebecca Ewen, the production’s director and the choreographer for WWCA.
Her mother, Jan Peterson Ewen, is the center’s artistic director and her father, Bruce, is the show’s musical director. For 18 years, the theater has offered an average of six shows a year plus summer workshops for kids and youth, special event shows and workshop performances.
“We’re a big cast in a small intimate theater,” Ewen said, “so the struggle is how to make it grand.”
“Seussical” is a musical written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, based on Dr. Seuss’ children’s stories with most its plot based on “Horton Hears a Who!” It also references many other Seuss stories such as “The Cat in the Hat,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “The Lorax,” “Gertrude McFuzz,” “If I Ran the Circus,” “Hunches in Bunches” and “The Butter Battle Book.” It debuted on Broadway in 2000.
The show’s name is a portmanteau of “Seuss” and “musical,” derived from fanciful Seussian-speak to illustrate the book author’s unique, delightful wordplay. This production features a 28-member cast, a similar number of crew members and includes almost 40 songs.
Any struggle by WWCA to stage a big Broadway production into this small venue has been successfully overcome as the cast treats the audience to Seuss’ characters, up close and personal. The performances will run at WWCA on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday matinees through Dec. 22. The production opened on Nov. 22.
Take the Cat in the Hat, performed by Angela McDermott. Here’s her take on the character:
“When you see the cat… it’s a fun character as it represents imagination. In this show, the cat’s working with Jojo’s imagination. There’s a line, ‘You’re a Thinker, Jojo. Tried and true. I don’t often meet real Thinkers like you.’
“Dr. Seuss stories are so timeless,” she said. “It’s just a fun and silly show that allows everyone to feel like a kid.”
Take Mr. and Mrs. Mayor of Whoville, a community on a tiny planet (played by Forrest and Emily Bliss). For the Bliss family, as with many in the cast, acting is a family affair. Their daughter, Alice, 6, also acts in the production.
“We home school so there’s no better way to learn about the theater and community then getting involved,” Forrest said.
“It’s family-friendly. It’s been a blast. There’s great wit and fun and whimsy. There’s social commentary.
“I play a fish, acrobat and a Who,” Alice said. “I like them all. It’s a lot of fun. I love the singing and dancing.”
Horton is the moral compass
Or take Horton the Elephant.
While much of the musical showcases wild, imaginative characters, Horton personifies admirable humanistic qualities of fidelity, courage and compassion. He is a heroic figure who saves the Whos, no matter the challenges. Through Horton, Seuss articulates a depth of character that resonates amidst the Seussian confection of wild, madcap players.
Through Horton, we can relish the depth and scope of Seuss’ genius that touches children and adults alike.
“Dr. Seuss made him so moral. He’s always thinking about others before himself and he’s very empathetic,” “Andrew Knickerbocker, 19, said.
The Port Orchard native started acting at age 6 and has played in 75 shows. His is a thespian family, including mother Vicki (the vocal director), his sister Amy (Mayzie LaBird), and niece Selene (Elephant Bird).
“Without Horton, the Whos would have died. It’s a good show to see for Christmas. It reminds everyone that there’s more to life than Christmas presents,” Andrew said.
“Horton was my dad’s last role. He died a few months after he played Horton. I am wearing the same ears that he wore.”
So, from the “Seussical” cast to everyone this holiday season, here is their universal Christmas message:
Peace on Earth, Goodwill to men, and God Bless Green Eggs and Ham.
“Seussical the Musical” – Western Washington Center for the Arts, 521 Bay St., Port Orchard, 360-769-7469, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tickets are priced at $17 and $20. Performances are on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday matinee at 3 p.m.