At the heart of this lovably eggcentric show is indeed an egg and this production of Seussical is like that egg – golden in the centre, exploding with goodness and with a huge, huge potential that could be so much bigger than the small and rather beautiful Arts Theatre just off the Charing Cross Road, wonderful though this production is.
The musical has an interesting history. It debuted on Broadway in 2000 to mixed reviews but has since been extensively re-written, and this short form produced by Sell a Door Theatre Company, of Greenwich in south London, directed by Phillip Rowntree, is aimed mainly at children but with much to please adults as well. It is a shame it did not start its life in this form. The song book is extraordinary, fantastical, with ‘Alone in the Universe’ one of my favourite musical songs of all time and many other songs with tunes and settings fit to make an audience sing and dance with happiness and wonder.
The cast burst with life on this small stage and the dancing is terrific, with backflips and jazz and beautifully-timed expressive movement.
Based on the best-selling Dr Seuss books, Seussical amalgamates the well-known rhyming couplets from many of the books into a storyline about Horton the Elephant, played with unforgettable wonderment by David Hunter, who hears voices from a tiny planet populated by a race called “The Whos”. He is mocked for believing in the unseeable, for these are imaginary friends. A boy, JoJo, rendered imaginatively in his gaucheness by one of the best contemporary adult actors of children, Clark Devlin, is propelled into the story by The Cat in the Hat, Joe Morrow, who I totally loved and who brought the character in the book to life with playful and watchable accuracy, capturing the clownish element perfectly.
Gertrude McFuzz, played by Kirsty Marie Ayers, is a bird all birds, young and old, can identify with. Desperate for more tail feathers to win the love of Horton in the jungle of cool, what does she do? Takes a pill of course. She gets the feathers, but not the love. That requires a rather different strategy. Jessica Parker, who flies glamorously through the show with convincing solipsistic wit under the glossy feathers of Mayzie La Bird, shows us ultimately how not do do it when she abandons her egg for the shallow life of celebrity plumage. Get the right look, she promises, with Ozymandias-style irony, and, “You’ll be as amazing…. as me!” There’s a lot of literary cross-dressing like this, which makes it fun for the adults.
The mischievous wicked Wickersham monkeys – Philip Scutt, Joe McCourt and Mathew Waters – are among the highlights of the show. Watch out for Waters as a lead in next year’s 1666 – The Great Fire of London. Oh the things that you think when you’re watching this show. Children above all will get the message at the heart of Seussical, that a person’s a person, no matter how small, and that in life, anything’s possible. Anything at all. Seussical bursts with life, song and potential. I dream that one day, someone new will pick it up, in this perfectly-small and newly-hatched form, and have another go at giving it the big West End or Broadway treatment. But perhaps that’s just the clover talking.
Review by Ruth Gledhill who you can follow on:
Sunday 23rd December 2012