Monday, October 3, 2011

Theater review: Seussical

Posted By on Mon, Oct 3, 2011 at 9:36 AM

You can almost hear the cartoon xylophone as the concentric edges of Ryan Wineinger’s set design converge in the new Children’s Theatre of Charlotte production of Seussical. Things move with Warner Brothers quickness at McColl Family Theatre as director Alan Poindexter propels a gifted cast through the Stephen Flaherty-Lynn Ahrens musical in just under 93 minutes. The famed opening Looney Tunes title color has been bled from scarlet to white, so the feel of this show straddles the worlds of books and animated shorts.

Connie Furr’s costume designs scream out all the pizzazz the basic set lacks, sometimes taking audacious liberties with her Dr. Seuss models. Lighting designer, David Fillmore Jr., gives the set occasional infusions of color, while choreographer Ron Chisholm electrifies it with motion.

Quite a spectacular show — with a 100% chance of bubble showers — and quite an energetic cast. For a couple of seconds, I thought that was Hardin Minor as the Cat in the Hat under Furr’s fur and behind an uncredited makeup artist’s whiskers, but it’s actually Mark Sutton, acting with enough physicality to have majored in Minor’s miming. Andy Faulkenberry, the Cat in the 2009 Seussical at Theatre Charlotte, has now moved his triple-threat talents to Whoville, where he presides as Mayor, and Beau Stroupe, fresh from his crossdressing exploits as Edna in CPCC Summer Theatre’s Hairspray, doubles as Yertle the Turtle and Otto von Bismarck (or Schmitz, if we’re insisting on accuracy).

Numerous divas, present and future, dazzle us from beginning to end. Susan Roberts Knowlson unfurls the mono- and the many-feathered Gertrude while fellow CP Summer stalwart Olivia Edge is Mrs. Mayor. Lucy Stetson makes a sultry Charlotte debut as vampy Mayzie LaBird, Nicole Watts as the Sour Kangaroo finally lands the role that adequately showcases her scorching voice, and a budding trio of Bad Girls — Casi Harris, Caroline Chisholm, and Mandy Moss — set off doo-wop dynamite every time they cross the stage in their glittery Vegas attire.

Yet Poindexter still ruins it all by directing with his stopwatch instead of his heart. He scraps the frame of the script, where the Cat narrates the whole story to a little boy. Worse, he decides that nobody will miss the suspenseful cosmic build-up to Whoville’s salvation. Unless every person in microscopic Whoville shouts out together, the skeptics in the Jungle of Nool will not hear them, and Whoville’s protector, Horton the Elephant, will have to surrender custody of their world and await some sort of dire sentence from Judge Yertle.

We do get better follow-through on Horton’s “a person’s a person, no matter how small” mantra. As the bleeding-heart pachyderm, Chaz Pofahl isn’t as chunky or dogged as Stuart Spencer was in 2009, but he sings “Alone in the Universe” so soulfully — and his gleaming gray costume is so adorable — we don’t mind terribly. With the downsizing of the larger Whoville theme — every person’s voice counts and makes a difference — we don’t get enough bonding between Horton and JoJo, the boy who makes the cosmic difference in Whoville.

It hardly gets any better than seventh-grader Sam Faulkner as JoJo. I searched in vain for a single amateurish moment when the spotlight shone on the precious mote and when our attention was directed away from him. But Faulkner would normally be double-cast as The Boy in an uncut Seussical, expanding a relationship with the Cat that gets halfway developed when JoJo spends quality time with our narrator, culminating in “It’s Possible (In McElligot’s Pool)” midway through Act 1. There ought to be a corresponding jolt at the end of Act 2, but Poindexter relegates Whoville’s part of the denouement to the rear of the stage, in the innermost of his Looney Tunes circles. I’d rather see it happening downstage with the widescreen emphasis it deserves. If that means tossing out the cameos of the Grinch, the Lorax, and Sam I Am, sign me up.

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