‘Seussical the Musical’ at NextStop Theatre Company

NextStop Theatre Company presents Seussical the Musical, based on the beloved works of Dr. Seuss and co-conceived by Eric Idle, Stephen Flaherty (music and book), and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics and book). For this production, Jennifer Lambert directs a large ensemble made up mostly of children (supported by a few adult professionals), and the result is a fun-filled evening for the whole family!

Jaclyn Young and Ben Cherington. Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.
Jaclyn Young and Ben Cherington. Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.

Dr. Seuss’ unique illustrations are easily recognized, and scenic designer Jack Golden brings the familiar pages to life onstage as a hazy clover field against a blue sky filled with fluffy clouds. Since the ensemble is large and the show needs a lot of room for few big dance numbers, there isn’t much space for set dressing. However, a couple of pieces are wheeled on and offstage, my favorite being a gargantuan model of The Cat in the Hat’s striped top hat that holds a surprise! As for the fantastical creatures, Costume Designer Kristia Martin mixes different fabrics, textures, colors, and prints together to create wacky outfits. Brian Stefaniak does a fine job with lighting as well, using different hues to highlight the sky throughout the show.

While the entire technical crew here worked together to create a great atmosphere for the show, the element I was most impressed with was Evie Korovesis’ musical direction. The actors are mic’d, which can be tricky (I’ve heard a lot of microphone feedback in my time as a production reviewer), but there wasn’t a single issue at my performance. Also, one of the main actors was suffering from a case of laryngitis, and the audience was told that while she would still perform, Evie Korovesis would sing her songs for her (a la Singing in the Rain) while she lip-synched. I’ll admit I was a bit weary when I heard their plan, but the effort was pulled off fantastically by both Korovesis and  actress Jaclyn Young. If I wasn’t warned of this prior, I probably would not have even noticed that Korovesis was singing for Young offstage. The combined efforts of these two ladies really emphasized the overall quality that NextStop has to offer, and their success in this feat will most likely be what I remember most from this show in the future. My respect for this theatre company just shot up a few notches (sometimes, laryngitis holds unexpected rewards!)

The cast of 'Seussical.' Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.
The cast of ‘Seussical.’ Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.

A few of Dr. Seuss’ prized characters are interwoven to tell the story of Horton (Matthew “Moose” Thompson), a kind and gentle elephant who embarks on a brave rescue mission, only to be ostracized by his community.

Narrated by The Cat in the Hat himself (Ben Cherington), the story begins in the world of Whoville, where little Jojo (Erik Peyton) is being reprimanded by his parents (Connor Brunson and Ivy Ridenhour) after his “thinks” get him into some trouble at school. Jojo has a strong, vivid imagination, and is encouraged to use it by the Cat in the Hat even after his parents beg him to scale back on all the “thinks,” shown in the number “Oh the Thinks You Can Think.”

As it turns out, Whoville resides on a speck of dust that sits on a small clover, and Horton is the only one who can hear them (“Horton Hears a Who.”) The Whos are frightened– their tiny world is delicate, and threatens to topple off of the clover at any given moment. Horton decides to care for the tiny world, but faces immense ridicule amongst his peers, who all believe he has gone off his rocker. Scene Stealer Katie McManus shows strong vocals as the Sour Kangaroo, leading the song “Biggest Blame Fool,” where they make it clear that Horton must choose between his world, or the tiny world of the Whos.

Erik Peyton (Jojo). Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.
Erik Peyton (Jojo). Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.

Poor Horton feels miserably alone, except for his new friendship with Jojo, the tiny little voice piping up from the clover–as it turns out, both of them feel singled out by those they love. Horton and Jojo sing about their new friendship in the song “Alone in the Universe.” However, Horton does have some help; Gertrude McFuzz (Jaclyn Young) has admired him for some time, and decides to support him in this new endeavor. The problem, however, is that Horton is so consumed with his new responsibility that he barely acknowledges her. Gertrude believes that Horton’s lack of attention is due to her flimsy tail feather (“The One Tail Feather of Miss Gertrude McFuzz), and decides to do take supplements to make it big, bright, and beautiful. One pill works wonders on her tail feather, so the more pills, the merrier…right?

Horton and his friends find themselves tangled in a whole heap of adventures, including an irresponsible bird named Mayzie (a great performance by Allie Lytle, who won the crowd over with her upbeat song, “Amazing Mayzie”), a band of hunters, and a trio of mischievous monkey brothers (Jack Dalrymple, Jalen Robinson, and Jon Scanlan). Can the power of friendship, imagination, and community band together to help Horton and the Whos?

The large cast worked well together. The professional actors did a great job, and a lot of promising talent was brewing among the young ensemble as well. There were some fun group numbers co-choreographed by Katie McManus, and my favorite was “It’s Possible,” which included a sea full of paper lantern fishes.

Matthew Thompson as Horton. Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.
Matthew Thompson as Horton. Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.

Thompson is fantastic as gentle Horton, and his vocals were especially lovely. Perhaps my favorite thing about him, however, had nothing to do with the show at all– intermission comes at the point in the plot when Horton is sorting through a heaping pile of clovers, and Thompson maintained his character throughout the entire intermission, sorting through the clovers with children from the audience as they laughed and joked. This friendly atmosphere is upheld throughout the entire experience, especially after the show, when the kids are allowed onstage to talk with the actors and have their programs signed.

Take the family for a showing of NextStop Theatre Company’s production Seussical the Musical— it’s a great time for everyone!

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Seussical the Musical plays through December 20, 2015 at NextStop Theatre Company –269 Sunset Park Dr, Herndon, VA. For tickets, call (703) 481-5930 or purchase them online.

LINK:
In the Moment: ‘Seussical’ Comes to NextStop Theatre Company December 4-20th by David Siegel.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif