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The second National Tour of Seussical the Musical, produced by NETworks Presentations/WhoCo, LLC and presented Dec. 30-Jan. 1 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium by Broadway Series South, was a charming children's show, with considerable adult appeal, but not quite the lavish musical extravaganza Broadway Series South have come to expect. Moreover, the evening shows started at 8 p.m., which is probably an hour too late for the youngest of the preteens that comprise the most devoted audience for the whimsical morality tales of Dr. Seuss (the pen name for Pulitzer Prize-, Academy Award-, Emmy-, and Peabody Award-winning author Theodor Seuss Geisel, 1904-91).
Cleverly staged by director Stafford Arima, who served as associate director for the show's original Broadway run in 2000-01, and crisply choreographed by Patricia Wilcox, Seussical on tour starred tall and imperially thin and marvelously spry and witty Peter Roman as the Cat in the Hat, roly-poly Randall Frizado as Horton the Elephant, pert Heather Barr as Gertrude McFuzz, sultry Dawn Lebrecht as Mayzie LaBird, and precocious 10-year-old Gene Biscontini as a sleeping schoolboy who receives a surprise late-night visit from the Cat in the Hat and finds himself playing the role of JoJo, a curious child on a tiny world of Whoville.
None of these furry or feathered creatures, great and small, was masked or transformed into an animal's image by prosthetics. The accent was on the acting and the posture and gestures of the actors, and Randall Frizado really sparkled as good-hearted Horton, dressed in a rumpled gray safari suit and swinging his right arm stiffly like an elephant's trunk.
Peter Roman was a charming rascal as the Cat in the Hat; Heather Barr was cute as a button as the lovelorn Gertrude McFuzz, who cannot get Horton to notice her; Dawn Lebrecht's Mayzie LaBird was a naughty, naughty bird indeed — and a sinsational audience delight; and Gene Biscontini gave a passionate performance as JoJo, acting, singing, and dancing with a poise and professionalism far beyond his years.
LaDonna Burns added a tart cameo as the Sour Kangaroo; Booth Daniels and Marcia Sofley were entertaining as the Mayor of Whoville and his wife; and Phil Olejack strutted and fretted superbly as that martinet's martinet, General Genghis Kahn Schmitz. The Bad Girls, who sang brassy backup for Mayzie LaBird, were impishly impersonated by Kimberly Schwenzer, Leah Seminario, and Kinnie Dye; and the wonderfully wicked Wickersham Brothers were played with loose-limbed brio by John R. Armstrong, Charlie Mechling, and Steve Morgan.
Stephen Lair doubled delightfully as the Grinch and Judge Yertle the Turtle, and Jason Michael Esposito made the most of his few brief moments on the stage as Vlad Vladikoff. Lisa Kassay, Antoni Luke, and Sarah Mason — who combine with Jason Michael Esposito to play the Cat's helpers, completed the young and energetic cast.
Seussical, which debuted on Broadway on November 30, 2000 and only ran for a disappointing 198 performances, features a book by the award-winning team of lyricist Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime and Once on this Island), plus Eric Idle of Monty Python fame. Songsmiths Ahrens and Flaherty won their third Grammy nomination for the original cast album of Seussical. This NETworks Presentations/WhoCo, LLC touring version of the show also boasted imaginatively conceived storybook sets by James Kronzer, artful lighting by Kirk Bookman, and flamboyant Technicolor costumes by North Carolina's own William Ivey Long, who costumed the show's Broadway debut.
And musical director/conductor Kelly Anne Lambert, assistant conductor Elaina Cope (keyboards), Brad Swope (reeds), Mark Hoke (trumpet), Renard Hoover (guitar), Taylor Price (bass), and Tom Bradford (percussion) provided exuberant accompaniment on the show's lively musical numbers, which included "Oh, The Thinks You Can Think"; "It's Possible"; "Alone in the Universe"; and "How Lucky You Are."
Second opinion: Raleigh, NC News & Observer staff writer Orla Swift's preview: http://newsobserver.com/features/story/3153669p-2850094c.html [inactive 4/04].
Broadway Series South: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2003-2004/specials.html#seussical. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/production.asp?ID=12571. Seussical the Musical: http://www.seussical.com/. Seussical the Musical Study Guide: http://www.seussical.com/studyguide.pdf. Dr. Seuss: http://www.seussville.com/seussville/. In Rhythm and Rhyme: The Ahrens and Flaherty Website: http://www.ahrensandflaherty.com/.