H-T Review: Indiana Festival Theatre closes its season with this fun, family show

The idea of an elephant guarding a speck of dust that hosts a village called Whoville, inhabited by creatures called Whos, would probably sound even stranger than it does if it wasn’t a story that so many of us grew up with.

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Horton (Christian Fary) hears a Who.

“Horton Hears a Who” by Dr. Seuss is that classic story. It’s a tale that stupefies adults, but children, on the other hand, just take it for granted as an entirely reasonable account of reality.

That’s the genius of Dr. Seuss; even in old age, he was able to access parts of the human imagination that typically fade away at the onset of adolescence.

Adults interested in reawakening those depths of imagination might look to Indiana Festival Theatre’s production of “Seussical,” its last show of the summer. Veteran theater professor George Pinney directed and choreographed this musical.

Kids will love it too, of course. “Seussical” is one of those shows that isn’t just a great kids’ show, but suitable for the whole family. The story is complex, but whimsical enough that kids don’t have to follow every detail.

“Seussical” is a tuneful amalgam of nearly 20 original Dr. Seuss books, but the primary story arc is that of “Horton Hears a Who.” “Horton Hatches an Egg” and “Miss Gertrude McFuzz” also make significant plot contributions.

The songwriting team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty created this show for Broadway in 2000. The premiere was followed by two U.S. national tours, a West End production, an off-Broadway production, a U.K. tour and countless regional productions.

Ahrens and Flaherty composed music for nearly all of “Seussical,” which is a wise choice. The music propels the show forward, and unlike most music written with children in mind, it’s actually pretty good.

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Jojo (Andrew Minkin) thinks a new think.

The show opens with a groovy performance of “Oh, the Thinks You Can Think.” Music director Terry LaBolt ably leads and plays piano in the five-piece rock band accompanying the singers.

A major theme in “Seussical” is a topic that, as discussed above, was clearly important to Seuss: imagination. JoJo (Andrew Minkin), our young hero, often lets his imagination run amok, much to the dismay of grownups. JoJo ends up in the military, under the oppressive command of General Schmitz (convincingly played by Cameron Mullin).

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Jason Craig West as The Cat in the Hat.

Jason Craig West emcees “Seussical” delightfully as the Cat in the Hat. West’s explosive physicality and ability to engage the children are boons to the show.

Other standout performances are Christian Fary as Horton the Elephant and Courtney Reid Harris as Mayzie LaBird (the lazy bird from “Horton Hatches the Egg,” who leaves Horton guarding her nest for months while she vacations in the tropics).

The vocal performances, other than a few moments of questionable intonation, are strong across the board. Mary Beth Black tears “Biggest Blame Fool” to shreds as Sour Kangaroo.

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Courtney Reid Harris as Mayzie La Bird

 

The visual spectacles of “Seussical” are sumptuous. Aaron Wardwell’s costumes, Carrie Barton’s lighting and Andrea Ball’s scenic design all evolve throughout the show. By sheer force of imagination (and a set of wheels attached to the bottom), JoJo’s bathtub becomes a boat, with the former showerhead functioning as an oar.

Indiana Festival Theatre closes its season with this fun show for the whole family.

 

 

If you go

WHO: Indiana Festival Theatre.

WHAT: “Seussical,” by Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty and Eric Idle, based on the works of Dr. Seuss.

WHERE: Wells-Metz Theatre in the Lee Norvelle Center, 275 N. Jordan Ave., Bloomington.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and Aug. 14-15; 2 p.m. Aug. Saturday and Sunday and Aug 15-16.

TICKETS: $12-$25. Visit theatre.indiana.edu or call 812-855-1103.

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. Click here to read at The HT Online.

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About IU Theatre Department

Welcome to the 7th & Jordan blog. This blog is a peak behind the curtain at the Indiana University Theatre Department productions and student work.
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