Review: ‘Seussical The Musical’ at Wildwood Summer Theatre

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Hurry to see Seussical the Musical!

Gertrude, Mazie, and the Bird Girls. Photo courtesy of Wildwood Summer Theatre.

This may be one of our area’s most popular theatrical events in no small part because it invites performers of all ages. Yet this particular performance stands out because of what WST is all about. As noted on their website FAQ page: “Wildwood Summer Theatre (WST) is a community musical theatre company founded in 1965 by a group of students from Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland. These theatrically minded students wanted to extend their high school musical experience into the summer. However, they were unable to find an adult sponsor, so they decided to strike out on their own. That summer, on a shoestring budget, and with little in the way of material supplies or support, they put on a production of Bye, Bye Birdie. The show was a rousing success, and WST was born. For the last 52 years, WST has presented at least one, and occasionally two, musical productions, with the entire company aged 14 to 25.”

That being the case you might never expect the complete professionalism of every moment. Producer Christopher Walkup handled the ticketing process and company promotion as though he were a seasoned professional even though he recently accepted the role from his predecessor who had “Aged Out” (turned 26). The Playbill is more than two dozen pages of useful information, and advertisements showing the level of community support. The theater at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School is much larger than many local community theatre venues. I didn’t wander back stage, but the orchestra pit alone was my first clue that I would be treated to something special.

The static set pieces designed by Katie Miller represented elementary constructs of a vivid childhood imagination but were craftily constructed to facilitate many complex choreographic moments designed by Caitlin Barnes.  I counted at least ten different points of entry and exit which at times accommodated the full cast of 30+ singing and dancing their way into my memory.

Now I suppose the story follows even if one has not read the complete works of Dr. Seuss. This musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty is a mashup of many of his most popular stories. That alone perhaps added a layer of subtext during the entire show: “Wait a minute, I don’t remember the Cat in the Hat having anything to do with Horton…” I found myself wondering on occasion.

Jojo contemplates the hat. Photo courtesy of Wildwood Summer Theatre.

Yet accepting the premise that all these characters exist in the mind of young JoJo played by Rachel Weisenthal – who is regularly admonished to “Think less Thinks” due to all the trouble it creates – one begins to accept that JoJo’s imaginary friend and all time instigator The Cat in the Hat played by Rebecca Worley can dance and cavort in and out of JoJo’s ‘Thinks’ with complete abandon. JoJo’s parents Mr. and Mrs. Mayor (Rocky Nunzio and Katherine Worley) are at wit’s end. They even contemplate sending poor JoJo to the military to serve under General Gengus played by Gondre Lewis whose character was reminiscent of The Pirate King played by Kevin Kline in the 1983 movie The Pirates of Penzance.

Zach Harris delivers a lovable Horton who happens to notice an infinitesimal spec and discovers it contains the entire planet inhabited by ‘Whos’. Horton’s attention to this tiny community frustrates the lovely and talented Gertrude played by Michelle Schrier who is ashamed of her ‘One feather tail’ but longs to be noticed by Horton. Gertrud goes to great lengths to improve her attraction even succumbing to pills to augment her plumage after the smarmy encouragement of a flashy, narcissistic bird named Mayzie played by Hillary Templeton.  A trio of Bird Girls #1, #2 and #3 (Meredith Beisel, Camilla Rodriguez, and Katherine Cardenas) delights the audience in every appearance with Ms. Beisel adding a twinge of sass just for fun!

Sour Kangaroo played by Carrie McKnight vamps through Horton’s circumstance with the constant support of Baby Kangaroo – Lexie Cheng.  You see NOBODY actually believes Horton hear’s the Who and it seems everyone wants to put him away in a looney bin. Which incidentally could well be the home of the Wickersham monkeys #1, #2 and #3 (Gavin Kramar, Nick Cox, and Cole Friedman) who bound about in great mockery without much provocation.

The Wickersham monkeys taunting Horton. Photo courtesy of Wildwood Summer Theatre.

Other cameos appear: The Grinch played by Judah Canizares who’s very bass voice during the song ‘Here on Who’ could have benefited from much less orchestral accompaniment but rose to the occasion during ‘The Who’s Christmas Pageant’. Yertl played by Yashi Janamanchi – presides over Horton’s trial with a very comical banging of his gavel on his turtle shell. And the evil vulture Vlad Vladikoff played by Tyler Hanson flies off stage with a flourish.

Special note to the  Ensemble: Alex Adah, Mercedes Blankenship, Cecilia Ford, Will Green, John Greer, Blair Jones, Rachel Kerschenbaum, Sarah Kinney, Becca Haven, Ashley Kitchelt, Joseph Moore, Jessica Noah, Christina Williams. They fill in the blanks and swell the chorus much to the delight of the audience.

Music director and Conductor Sam Weich delivered a masterful score with the help of his ensemble Clair Lee, Sydney Epstein, Sam Hull, Lydia Turner, Eli Jardine, Kaylee Mina, Hunter MacDonald, Caroline Tyson, Wesley Kramar, Barnabas Lee, Alyssa Mae Herman, Jeremy Keyton, Venkatesh Batni, Ben Dohm, Paul Grossman, and AJ Potvin.

Behind the scenes much of the perceived magic was thanks to Lighting Designer Doga Tasdemir, Sound Designer Jamie Davis, Properties Designer Caroline Tyson, Costume Designer Katie Cannon, and Hair & Makeup Designer Gabi Scott.

And thank you to Graphic Designer Cecilia Ford and Projection Designer Katie Garmer who made possible the captioning throughout the performance to augment the experience of those with special needs.

Running Time: Two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

Seussical The Musical plays through July 30, 2017, at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School — 17301 Old Vic Blvd, Olney, MD.  For tickets purchase them online.

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