Godwin High School’s ‘Suessical the Musical’ is a Humdingerdoosical!
In my lifetime, Dr. Suess has always ruled. He taught us all to read. Almost without exception, we loved having his books read to us and we love reading them to others. An instance where a great writer made a great deal of money. Couldn’t be happier. He is loved. Period.
His works are deceptively simple. Not all have plots (One fish, two fish …) but of the ones that do, I notice they are not well suited for television. My theory is because he lacks triteness. His Grinch is the only television star and that’s because it’s a Holiday favorite. Most of his stories are personal journeys and not always happy.
Suessical is a mashup of a dozen or more Suess stories with a musical score. The plot is too complicated to untangle. All you need to know is that The Cat in the Hat is emcee. Horton and Jojo from Whoville are its stars. Mayzee La Bird and Gertrude McFuzz are in the supporting actress category. Many other very talented people come on stage, mostly the Whos from Whoville.
Suessical is a good musical. It has a lovely, tuneful score. Some songs are very good. Stephen Flaherty wrote the music and his partner, Lynn Ahrens, the lyrics. Together the pair have also written Ragtime, Anastasia and the musical Rocky. Together they take credit for the Book.
Is it a great musical? No. The book is overloaded. Far too many of Suess’ works referenced throughout in one way or another. Makes the whole thing very choppy. But. The structure is kept from collapsing by the Cat in the Hat as the Master of Ceremonies. It helps to have a good actor playing the Cat.
Michael Whitty is a good actor playing the Cat. He keeps the story moving, weaving in and out of other stories hurrying them along. He kills his musical numbers and plays the audience like a fiddle.
Whitty is well matched by Brittany Alley playing Jojo. Because Jojo is written as a boy, most references were worked out, but not all. No matter, because Ms. Alley won me over. She has a natural grace on stage and a wonderful singing voice. She succeeds because she is honest and doesn’t overplay. You don’t know how hard that is. Well, maybe she does.
Adam Compton’s does a nice job as Horton, most especially in his songs, but he comes in just a shade too subtle. Horton is a sympathetic, loveable guy but has to have a big presence. He sits in a tree most of the play so it’s not easy.
Rachael Williamson scores as Mayzie La Bird, strutting around like a Las Vegas showgirl. Elisha Ralphs brings us to church as Sour Kangaroo even though the script wants to make her a villain. Emilee Papa is in great voice and sassy moves as Gertrude McFuzz.
I was also taken by the quartets, the Bird Girls and the primate Wickersham Brothers. Both groups gave great back up and generally looked like they were having fun. The monkeys got a little wild but, hey, they’re monkeys!
Rob Brocklehurst’s set and set pieces were very striking. Well designed, constructed, and painted – they added so much. There were some excellent costumes but some chorus wear I didn’t care for. The lighting and sound designs were no doubt masterful, but the technicians had some hiccups opening night. Not being a techie and knowing how little time you have to put it together, I respect what they do and since I couldn’t do it myself, no worries.
Director David Clatterbuck stages the play cleanly without fuss. Asa Maurer has some Herculean work on display choreographing this show.
It’s almost all set pieces, meaning it goes song to song with little dialogue. Maurer keeps it tight and knows how to keep the important people seen and the huge chorus churning behind. Some snazzy, jazzy choreography going on and big production numbers which he navigates around the stage like choo choo train that’s on time. Between the two of them, they pulled out some pretty impressive performances. The orchestra also sounded fine.
Conductor Leon Auman brought them along very professionally.
I love High School musicals. They are a great way for someone who is shy to let it out on the stage. I was one such person. An overweight boy with a stutter, the stage gave me the place to be somebody and to show the rest of the school who I was. I made them laugh and I never got picked on. It opened up a world to me that remains my passion forty five years later.
High School musicals involve the Drama people, the Chorus people, the Band people, the sewing people, the builders, the painters and sometimes the Jocks. The parents all kick in food or rides or do the sewing and building. It’s a great communal project for a school.
With so much theatre in Richmond you have to pick and choose what you see. I keep my ear to the ground and find out which high school programs have serious leadership, usually by people I know from the professional world. Godwin has great mentorship and their students are very lucky to be in such good hands.
Theodor Giesel would be proud.
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