Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011

Another Journey Into Seuss

First Stage's Return to Seussical

By Russ Bickerstaff
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First Stage Chilren's Theatre revisits SEUSSICAL--THE MUSICAL for the first time in a few years. And while I feel like almost any producion of the contemporary children's classic is going to pale in comparison to First Stage's last production with Gerard Neugent as The Cat in the Hat and Norman Moses as Horton, it would be absolutely tragic if kids too young to remember that production wouldn't have the opportunity to see it. Here's some of what this year's audiences can expect:

 

Regional actor Jackson Evans manages to bring the Cat In The Hat to the stage in kind of a novel way. Yes, he's got kind of a mischief about him, but that mischif overshadowed by interesting shades of a kind of playfully concerned authotrity about him that make for a more empathetic stage presence than I've ever  seen in the role before.

 

Rick Pendzich puts in a really powerful performance in the role of Horton the Elephant. Pendzich has an irrepressible nice guy quality about him that work brilliantly in the role of a profoundly sensitive elephant who discovers a civilization on the tiniest speck of fluff. Horton's exploits tie together the disparate scenes that make up the musical every bit as much as the Cat in the Hat and Pendzich's performance is both subtle and smple enough to anchor it all together without feeling to over-ingratiating.

 

Scenic Artist Keith Pitts' set design looks almost effortlessly Seussian. Everything curves with the right amount of whimsy. The real trick with filling the space in a production of Seussical is making it all feel big enough without makinng it feel crowded. Secrest manages a good balance between immensity and empty space.

 

With its surreal atmosphere, this show is an excellent opportunity for a lighting designer to work with a less traditional pallette. Jason Fassl paints a pretty dazzling array here.  Colored lights bathe stage and audince in sort of a fruit-like red and blue wash that has kind of a funky blacklight-like effect that feels pleasantly fantastic.

 

It's a large cast on a small stage and as usually ends up being the case with that sort of set-up, the producton paints much of its mood and atmosphere with costuming. Brandon Kirkham's costume design work is remarkably vivid. The Cat in the Hat's trademark chapeau rests atop a classy, early twentieth century vibe that permeates the ensemble's wardrobe. There's a tiny pair of glasses, wild hair, a tall pair of boots and a coat with very long tails. Horton is always kind of a cotuming challenge wht with the trunk and all. Kirkham has him in very, very baggy grey that gives e a trunklike appearance around the arms as Horton holds a clover or an egg or even just raising his arms. The wildest bit of costuming has to be the Wickersham Brothers, who appear as monkeys wearing football outfits from the leather helmet dys of the sport crosed with a style reminiscent of a human acannonball outfit. Brilliant stuff.

 

All of the little extras for the visual design come in the form of props and puppets by seasoned designer Mark Hare. Much of it is pretty simple, straightforawr and pragmatic, subtly blending-in with the rest of the production, but the fish were kind of hard not to notice. A who sits in his bathtub imagining its a lake and these fish puppets come swimming out. Having seen a couple of different productins of the show before, I knew to expect the fish. I didn't expect them to look so cute. Excellent work on the fish Mr. Hare.

 

First Stage Children's Theatre's poduction of Seussical runs through October 16th at The Marcus Center's Todd Wehr Hall. For ticket reservations, call 414-273-7206.

 

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