Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Seussical: The Musical at The Gallery Players by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Seussical: The Musical at The Gallery Players was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Seussical: The Musical 
Director/Co-Choreographer: Barrie Gelles
Music Director: Trevor M. Pierce
Choreographer: Emily Clark
Costume Design: Joey Haws
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens 
Book by Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty
Co-Conceived by Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty & Eric Idle
The Gallery Players 
199 14th Street
Park Slope, New York 11215
Reviewed 2/7/16

After Seussical: The Musical had a New York City reading and was work shopped in Toronto in 1999, it had its out-of-town tryout in Boston, Massachusetts at the Colonial Theatre in September 2000. It opened on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on November 30, 2000, and after 198 performances and 34 previews, it closed on May 20, 2001. The production received lukewarm reviews, with critics focusing on the huge cast of characters and the unsympathetic plot lines. The script for the first national tour (2002-03) was extensively reworked resulting in the removal and rewriting of several songs. Additional dialogue was also added. It is this version of the musical that has enjoyed success in community and regional theater. A 90-minute Off-Broadway production was staged at the Lucille Lortel Theatre from July 19th to August 17th in 2007 by Theatreworks USA. That show was then downscaled for another National Tour, which took its final bow in Spring 2014. 

The best production of Seussical: The Musical you will ever see is currently being performed at The Gallery Players in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I have seen many other attempts to successfully stage this musical and I can say with 100% confidence that this rendition is extraordinary and exceptional. 17 actors portray 78 different Seuss characters, and The Cat In The Hat wears 20 different hats during the course of the show. The beautifully designed set is the center of the action. During each of the two acts, no actor leaves the stage. They change on stage and lighting is used to focus the attention of the audience. There are 38 perfectly sung musical numbers, an extremely interesting story line, almost perfect performances by talented, charismatic actors, and important messages "to think" such as to be loyal and to respect your fellow man, even Whos, because "a person is a person no matter how small."

The plot centers around Horton, the elephant, who while bathing in the Jungle of Nool, hears a strange noise coming from a speck of dust. The Whos introduce themselves and their community and he makes friends with Jojo, who recently got in trouble in school for "having Thinks" disrupting the class and horrifying the teachers. Jojo is sent to "take a bath and go to bed, and Think some normal Thinks instead." Jojo imagines the tub is McElligot's Pool and floods the living room. His parents send him to Military School under the supervision and persuasion of General Genghis Khan Schmitz who is preparing to go to war with those who eat their bread butter side down. Horton learns that in addition to being unable to control where their dust speck goes, all their beautiful Truffula Trees have been cut down. Horton rescues the speck and places it on a blue clover, resolving to protect it. However, since only he can hear the voices of the citizens of Who, all the other animals in the jungle, led by Sour Kangaroo, mock him mercilessly, except for Gertrude McFuzz, Horton's next door neighbor, who admires his compassion and begins to fall in love with him. Horton is ambushed by a gang of monkeys called the Wickersham Brothers, who steal the clover. Horton gives chase until the monkeys give the clover to a black-bottomed eagle named Vlad Vladikoff, who drops it into a large patch of identical clovers "one-hundred miles wide." After searching 2,999,999 clovers, Horton loses hope. He sees Mayzie La Bird high in a nest in a tree sitting on an egg, left to her by Tweet McFirth after "three weeks of bliss." Mayzie persuades Horton to sit on the egg for a few weeks while she goes off on holiday. Mayzie doesn't return and Horton is captured by hunters.

In New York City, Horton is auctioned off to Circus McGurkus. After going on the road and "sitting on the egg for 51 weeks, sitting here while people have paid to take peeks," Horton meets up with Mayzie again, who insists he keep the egg as a dubious gift. Horton, betrayed and alone, sorrowfully remembers how no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't save the Whos, or poor Jojo. Realizing the egg also is alone without its mother, he declares he'll do better than try, and will protect the little egg with everything he has. Gertrude McFuzz sneaks into the circus and frees Horton. She professes her love for him and reveals she also found Horton's clover. The happiness is short-lived. Sour Kangaroo and the Wickersham Brothers appear, kidnapping Horton, and dragging him back to the Jungle of Nool to be put on trial for "talking to a speck, disturbing the peace, and loitering on an egg." The Cat In The Hat plays the bailiff and Judge Yertle The Turtle presides over the case. The verdict is for Horton to the be remanded to the Nool Asylum For The Criminally Insane, and the clover is to be boiled in a kettle of Beezle-Nut oil. Horton encourages the Whos to make as much noise as they can to prove they exist. Their efforts fail until Jojo comes up with a new word, YOPP, his shouting of which reverberates throughout the world and finally makes the Whos heard. The Court acquits Horton and the Sour Kangaroo ends her wicked ways and decides to do her part in protecting the clover. On Who, Jojo is celebrated for his achievement and is honored as "Thinker Non-Stop!" Suddenly, the egg hatches, and to everyone's surprise, a tiny flying Elephant-Bird emerges. Horton panics and asks Gertrude what he should do. She responds, "I have wings, yes I can fly...you teach him earth, and I will teach him sky." They agree to raise the child together as mother and father. The audience is left with a final inspirational thought, "Imagine all the thinks you can think when you think about Seuss!"

Considering that Seussical: The Musical is often performed before an audience of children and the day I saw it at The Gallery Players featured a pre-show talk back with children 13 years of age and under, I was surprised by the many political and social messages written into the script. Mayzie La Bird explicitly had pre-marital sex with Tweet McFirth leaving her with the egg. It is also possible that Horton and Mayzie had a prior sexual encounter, which would explain the hatching of the flying Elephant-Bird. Gertrude McFuzz's love interest in Horton speaks to the acceptability of inter species (or interracial marriage) and her concern over not having enough feathers reflects the self-consciousness many women have regarding their looks. Even the political issue of the capture of animals placed in zoos for human entertainment is addressed. There are also messages regarding the importance of tolerance, respecting others, breaking with conventional thinking, and being loyal to your obligations, responsibilities, and commitments. You could write a doctoral thesis on the themes presented in this musical, which makes it substantive and interesting.

My three favorite performers in this production were Adrian Rifat (Horton), Paula Galloway (Sour Kangaroo) and Jesse Manocherian (The Cat). Adrian Rifat successfully portrayed the emotional depth, frustrations and struggles faced by Horton (his grandmother would be proud). Wearing over-sized baggy coverall jeans, Mr. Rifat was totally believable in the role and was a large part of the show's success. Paula Galloway has a strong stage presence and excelled as the villain, Sour Kangaroo. Jesse Manocherian as The Cat did a fine job as the sometimes master of ceremonies and Jojo's inspiration. The main story in this musical is about Horton and the manner in which Mr. Manocherian played The Cat permitted Horton to be the main focus of attention. The rest of the cast was excellent in every respect with the exception of Marc Winski, a stutterer, who was cast as Jojo. Mr. Winski has said he is "a proud owner of a stutter" and has spoken about how "to use stuttering to get noticed." That is certainly what happened here. His stuttering on stage was very distracting and he should not have been cast for the role. There is no place in the theater (as in sports) for "affirmative action" hiring. The fact we are even talking about this reflects a culture where excellence is no longer valued. Everyone gets a trophy for participating, "teams" no longer keep score, there are no more losers because you wouldn't want to hurt any one's feelings, and some blacks cry "racism" when a performance by an African-American actor is not deemed worthy of an Academy Award nomination. As for stuttering actors, I don't think pride is the issue here. If I had a physical handicap, I would not say I was proud to have that disability. I would work to overcome it and not use guilt, pity or political correctness to coerce others to cast me in a role for which other more capable actors were available.

That having been said, Seussical: The Musical is a must-see. Everyone involved can be extremely proud of the contribution they made to the show's success. I believe serious consideration should be given to taking this show on the road. It is an audience-pleaser you will want to see again and again. Seussical: The Musical will run through February 21, 2016. For more information and tickets, visit www.GalleryPlayers.com 

2 comments:

  1. Many years ago, I heard a great motivational speaker at the National Speaker Association convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He spoke to an audience of 2500 professional and would-be professional speakers on how he had transformed his blindness into motivational speaking in which his standard fee was $25,000. At one point, he explained he would gladly give this all up if he could regain his sight.

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  2. As the sibling of a person with autism, contending with disability has been something I have dealt with my whole life. My parents have worked extremely hard to give him every opportunity, and to this day my mother is hopeful for a cure which will magically make my brother able to verbally communicate the way averagely functioning people do. That day isn't coming any time soon, but my brother with all his kindness, goodness and humor is here to stay. I do not wish to change my brother, I choose to celebrate his difference. Embracing difference (disability or one-feathered tail) is entirely what this show is about, and what Marc so sensitively and beautifully brings to light in the show. I am so sorry that you entirely missed the point.

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