Wow! Tacoma Little Theatre has assembled a production of “Seussical the Musical” that has got to be the best performance of live musical theater that I have yet to see. From the top of its towering hat to the tips of its fuzzy toes, this show is rock solid. Every member of the cast puts in a remarkably professional-grade vocal performance. The lighting and atmospherics are wonderfully varied and evocative of many moods. The set is a whimsical riff on the art style of Dr. Seuss. The costumes, props and makeup are colorful and inventive without overwhelming the humanity of the actors.
The musical is a mash-up of many bits and pieces from the Dr. Seuss books, but the main storyline comes from “Horton Hears a Who!,” “Horton Hatches the Egg” and “Miss Gertrude McFuzz.” The show, with music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, first ran on Broadway in 2000. The TLT version is directed by Jennifer York.
The cast of this show it a proverbial embarrassment of riches. The Cat in the Hat (engagingly played by the wiry Christopher Sweet in his TLT debut) functions as master of ceremonies, narrator, ring leader and as an agent of subversive imaginings.
The starring role of Horton the elephant is played by Steve Barnett, a choir and drama teacher at Franklin Pierce High School. Barnett has both the vocal skill and the acting ability to do justice to the central character, the good natured, long suffering elephant who is faithful to his moral principles of helping others despite the skepticism, jeers and persecution of the crowd.
Opposite Horton is Gertrude McFuzz (Brittany Griffins) who is the leading lady. Gertrude proves to be as steadfast as Horton himself. She is in love with the golden-hearted elephant and stays true to him despite even his failure to notice her and all that she does for him. Griffins has a sweet, creamy voice and a vibrant presence that prove to be utterly beguiling.
Another major role is that of Jojo (Alexandria Bray), the young lady from Whoville who’s story forms a parallel line to that of Horton. Bray is brilliant and charismatic. She is gifted with a golden voice and shines like a gem on the stage.
Samantha Lobberegt is dazzling as Mayzie LaBird. Lobberegt has the sultry and brassy windpipes required for the role of the attractive, conceited and self-indulgent bird who leaves poor Horton on the nest in charge of her egg so that she can go someplace warm and enjoy herself.
Giving Lobberegt a run for her money is Courtney Eggert who plays the Sour Kangaroo. Eggert has a deep, lush and sassy voice that is a power unto itself. The Sour Kangaroo is one of Horton’s chief persecutors, but she is also among the first to turn in his favor once he is vindicated. Each of the Sour Kangaroo’s intense lyrical escapades is upstaged, however, by the Little Kangaroo, played by Evie Merrill, an audience favorite.
The performers in supporting roles are at the same high caliber as those in main roles. Liam Loughridge, Charlie Stevens and James Wrede play the Wickersham Brothers, a trio of monkeys that make mischief for Horton. When this trio performs as a trio in “Monkey Around,” it is a revelation. I was blown away at the range, strength and skill of all three. Stevens hits high tones with the bravado of a rock star and Wrede’s bass range is amazing.
The list goes on and on. Every member of the cast puts in a flawless performance: Caleb Corpeno as the Vlad, the raven; Andrew Fry as General Gengus Khan Schmitz; Caje Johnson as a jungle creature; Kathy Kluska as a Who; Micheal O’Hara as the Mayor of the Whos; Sharry O’Hare as Mrs. Mayor; Gunar Ray as a Who and a soldier; Megan Ross as a jungle creature and Thalia Wood and Olivia Zamira as citizens of Whoville.
Caiti Burke, Maddie Fry, Emma Konop and Jayda Slack are a quartet of lovely birds that function as backup singers, lending harmony to many of the songs of the others.
Because the material for this show is from Dr. Seuss, you’ll be fooled into thinking that this is a musical just for children — indeed, there were many families with children in the audience. The music in this production, however, is so sumptuous and catchy that it should be experienced by everyone. There are haunting duets that summon strange places and hit on themes of friendship, loyalty, unrequited love among other things. The story examines the pressure of conformity to mass opinion (appropriate in a time of social media on steroids).
Something about the song structure kept reminding me of the 1990s Broadway hit show “Rent.” I am certain that adults will love this show as much as children. Songs like “Alone in the Universe” and the hauntingly beautiful “Solla Sollew” are worth repeated listening.
The pacing, the musicality and the visual spectacle in this show make it fly by. TLT’s “Seussical” sets a new high-water mark, showing what live musical theater can be and should be. I can find almost nothing negative to say unless I could direct it at parents that allow small children to play with noisy plastic water bottles during a soft and stirring duet.
Do yourself a big favor and go see this show while you can. “Seussical the Musical” runs through Dec. 24. For information on ticketing and schedules visit www.tacomalittletheatre.com.