Theater Review: Drama Guild's 'Seussical' Entertainingly Covers The Dr. Seuss Canon

By: Ellen Chahey

Topics: Local Theater

The Cat in the Hat (Pam Banas) makes a point to Jojo (Alexis Arruda) in the Chatham Drama Guild's production of “Seussical the Musical.”

“Seussical the Musical,” playing at the Chatham Drama Guild this month, entertainingly covers Dr. Seuss’s optimistic philosophy from Yuzz to Hi! (more about that later).

They’re not kidding when they call it a musical. All told, there are 33 numbers, accompanied by piano (musical director Geraldine Boles) and percussion (Cassie Lortie). The show is performed on a versatile set painted in primary crayon colors.

Someone in the row behind us called Pam Banas “the Orson Welles of Chatham,” and it seems he’s right. In addition to directing the play, Banas also designed the costumes and co-designed the set – and she plays a leading role as The Cat in the Hat. As soon as she dons that crooked hat, which has been resting on the stage floor as the audience arrives, she really looks like the classic Dr. Seuss feline as she, sometimes mischievously, shepherds the story along.

Performed by a cast composed of every age actor from middle schooler to seasoned adult, “Seussical” focuses on the story of Horton the elephant (Jim Batzer) and his adventures and misadventures with various friends and not-so-friends: the Who child Jojo (played at this performance by Alexis Arruda, a role shared with Jacob Carlson); the Sour Kangaroo (Bridget Williams, the outstanding singer in the cast); lovesick Gertrude McFuzz (Meghan Lynn Allen); and glamorous but duplicitous diva Mayzie LaBird (this performance, Navaah Buehler).

The story mashes together a number of Seuss books. Horton discovers a civilization of Whos living on a dust speck; he's harassed for talking to imaginary people, then captured by a poacher (Lir Wood) while minding an egg for Mayzie, brought to a circus and put on trial, only to be vindicated when the very last Who gives a rousing yell that finally gets everyone's attention.

There’s enough color and movement on the stage to have arrested the attention of a fair number of young children in the audience, and yet a little bit of a plotline and humor for the adults; Monty Python’s Eric Idle is listed among the creators, along with Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, who wrote the book as well as the music (Flaherty) and the lyrics (Ahrens).

Costumes are creative, and especially in the case of the birds, downright gorgeous. Some of the costumes – and players – were borrowed from an earlier Cape Cod Academy production.

A shoutout goes to hairstylists Carol Arruda and Meredith Langelier. It’s amazing what they came up with to transform girls and women of all ages into Seuss characters.

Back to how the play covers Seuss’ philosophy from Yuzz to Hi!

Although it’s not part of the play, one of the good doctor’s books, “On Beyond Zebra,” posits the existence of a whole bunch of letters way beyond Z, with fanciful names such as Fuddle, Thnad, Floob, and Vroo. Each is illustrated, just as with a traditional A is for Ape…Z is for Zebra, with an animal as only Seuss can imagine them. Some of these letters look like the love-child of Greek and Hebrew, and others just go beyond.

The point of “On Beyond Zebra,” just as with “Seussical the Musical,” is that “There are things beyond Z that most people don’t know,” to quote the book.

And this play continues the message of limitless possibility.

“How lucky you are!” it says. Maybe even to be “in the third row of this theater.”

“Anything’s possible,” even to the kid who’s just been scolded for daydreaming in class, and sent to take a bath and go to bed – and stop thinking. The Cat in the Hat comes to the side of the tub to encourage JoJo to imagine it as more than just a tub (with consequences).

What seems to be Horton’s mantra also is that of the play: “A person’s a person no matter how small.” Although the smallest persons in the audience – one appeared to be only recently born – were really too small to understand that message, the bigger ones really can’t hear it enough.

DETAILS:

“Seussical the Musical”

At the Chatham Drama Guild, 134 Crowell Rd.

Through July 29, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 4

Information and reservations: 508-945-0510, ChatDramaGuild.org