Having grown up on Dr. Seuss and having seen the 2008 Horton Hears a Who movie a dozen times, I feared Seussical Jr. (book by Leslie Aherns and Stephen Flaherty, based on the works of Dr. Seuss) might not hold my interest. My fears were in vain. From the moment the hat dropped, I was drawn in and felt transported into the dual worlds of the Whos in Whoville and Horton’s jungle.
The ACCT production, with five more shows playing through January 21, offers a delight for the senses. The vibrant set (designed by Jeffrey Auerbach and Kelly Hayden; built by John Hays; painted by Meg Jewett, Lisa Medley, and Payson White); colorful and creative costuming (Anna Carlos, Jill Hixson, and Helena Taylor) and props (Kelly Hayden); and lighting (Jeffrey Auerbach and Kimberly Crago), sound (Marg Soroos) and choreography (Michele Koros) have a professional feel that I was not expecting. Most surprising is how refreshing, well sung, and catchy I found the musical numbers. The storyline is carried by songs, and the accompaniment was spunky and played flawlessly by James Woods, a local college freshman.
Excellent casting choices provide some strong leads. Horton’s sweet earnestness, as faithfully played by Charlie Ruppe, permeates the show and drives home two overriding messages, “A person’s a person no matter how small,” and “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant, an elephant’s faithful 100 percent.” The Cat, as played by Brett Medley, brings lots humor and hi-jinx to his role. I laughed out loud as Thing 1 (Katie Clement) and Thing 2 (Hartley Hayden) brought out more and more ridiculous and imaginative props to accompany Medley’s narration and singing which kept the plot moving and tied the show together. Other chortles, along with pure delight, came in watching the performances of Taegan Chirinos and Zoey Vaghin-Carlos, as Gertrude and Mayzie. Vaghin-Carlos’s reliable performance perfectly captures the fly girl Mayzie with over the top self-absorption and a pouty poo-poo-pi-do attitude. Chirinos delivered perhaps the best performance of the show with clear, beautiful vocals while exuding Gertrude’s sheer frustration and determination in garnering Horton’s attention. Her instinct and antics, especially while singing “All for You,” are spot on and very funny.
The stage came alive with swirling color, light, props and an army of amazingly colorful and talented Whos as JoJo, confidently played by Jack St. Pierre–one of the younger cast members– convincingly conjures up an ensemble swirling around his bathtub in “It’s Possible,” one of the many whimsical and well-executed numbers in the show. The duet between Horton and JoJo, “Alone in the Universe,” was so moving, I found myself with a lump in my throat. Mr. Mayor (Joel Simpson) and Mrs. Mayor (Fiona Roberts) do lots of hand wringing and scolding over their son’s “Thinks” and aptly lead Whoville through a tumultuous time with strong performances made more endearing by their closeness in size and age to their son on stage. The Bird Girls (Kendall Brady, Molly Johnson, Caroline Magro, Olivia Parker, and Sophie Parker) and Wickershams (Gabriella Cullo, Rachel Jurta, Tonks Teitel, and Catherine Weingold) provide flair and pizazz as they deliver impressive dance routines and lyrics throughout the show. I was especially impressed by the Bird Girls’ execution and synchronization in “Biggest Blame Fool” and the flow of movement as the Wickershams play keep-away with Horton’s clover as he “chases the Whos.” The sassy Sour Kangaroo and Young Kangaroo (Sarah King and Kaylea Struck) bring lots of attitude and spunk to their roles, up through the curtain call. Judge Yertle the Turtle (Ellee St. Pierre) hits an “insane” low note that left audience members laughing as she delivered the verdict against Horton. In the end, JoJo’s “Yopp” reaches jungle creatures’ ears and saves the magical, ever present Who’s who both serve as the backbone of the beautifully sung and choreographed full ensemble numbers.
I talked to one audience member after the show on opening night who said, “ACCT really raised the bar with this show; they raised it so high, you might as well throw it away!” It’s clear that the cast and crew, led by Shelagh Roberts (Director), Heather Gifford (Music Director), and Austin Fodrie and Marg Soroos (Executive Producers) put their expertise, heart and soul into this production and that these 41 talented kids do not like green eggs and ham! Take the kids and go see it. From the smallest of small to the largest of all, you won’t be disappointed.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Seussical Jr. continues through January 21 at Aldersgate Church Community Theater, performing at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, 1301 Collingwood Road, Alexandria, VA 22308. For tickets, buy them online.