It must have been a daunting task for everyone involved to put on “Seussical,” this year’s Stuyvesant Theatre Community (STC) musical, directed by Ellie Shanahan and Jeremy Cohen. In past years, the musical has been in the Fall, but was moved to Spring this year. So the STC, in a mere three weeks, had to put on a show amid AP exams and formidable amounts of end-of-year class work.
The result? Surprisingly enjoyable. Though it suffered from poor coordination and faulty acoustic balance that made the singers hard to hear over the band, there was a clear abundance of acting and vocal talent in the cast. For the most part, the singing was expressive and soulful and the dialogue was delivered with the zest necessary for a work based on the stories of Dr. Seuss. The show drew a lot of laughter out of the audience, if not always for the right reasons (it’s possible that its mishaps caused as much laughter as its intended humor did).
The story is introduced by its narrator, the Cat in the Hat (senior Josiah Mercer), who, accompanied by the rest of the cast in chorus, sings “Oh, The Thinks You Can Think!” Mercer acted his part confidently, but on the Wednesday show, his weak voice didn’t do his acting justice. By Friday, though, his voice was much stronger, which he displayed in the number “How Lucky You Are,” a tune that reprises when characters are in a rough patch.
The Cat in the Hat introduces us to Horton the Elephant (freshman Kyler Chase), a sensitive pachyderm who hears noises coming from a speck of dust. He discovers that the speck is inhabited by a civilization of tiny people, the Whos. They introduce themselves by singing “Here on Who,” explaining that they are “smaller than the eye can see,” but exist like any other being. All other animals in the jungle are incredulous, and ridicule Horton upon seeing him talk to a speck, especially the Sour Kangaroo (Junior Eugenie Thompson), accompanied by her Baby Kangaroo (Nadia Saleh). The two used their soulful, jazzy voices to get their characters’ sassiness across, as did freshman Jasmine Thomas, who played Mayzie, the most attractive of the jungle birds with a knack for skillfull trills and shrieks.
Only Gertrude McFuzz (sophomore Juliette Hainline), Horton’s “odd little next-door neighbor,” believes him. She is in love with Horton but is shy due to her tail only having one feather, and is generally unnoticed by him.
Meanwhile, JoJo, the son of the mayor of the Whos, is told by his parents not to let his imagination run wild. His parents, distraught by his “thinks,” send him to the military to be disciplined under the iron fist of General Genghis Khan Schmitz (senior Benjamin Koatz). Koatz seemed to have mastered the seemingly obscure combination of the strident demeanor and rigid march of a general and the foolhardy nonsense of Dr. Seuss, making for good-humored laughter, especially compared to Leventhal’s colorful costume (comprised of a green t-shirt and purple baggy pants) and her lollygagging, daydreaming character.
Forlorn, Horton begins to bond with JoJo, and the two sing a duet about their loneliness, “Alone in the Universe.” This song allowed Chase and Leventhal to display their singing talent. While Chase’s part throughout the play contained a few notes that he couldn’t cleanly hit, and his acting was never very convincing, his voice, which was generally powerful, more than made up for it. Leventhal acted and sang with enthusiasm and energy that was needed to portray a curious, naïve little boy. Together, in songs like “Alone,” they were an effective duo.
Horton promises to protect the Whos, but the speck of dust is stolen from him by other animals and dropped in a field of clovers. He searches with little success and despairs until Gertrude presents him with the clover on which the Whos live, all the while declaring her feelings for him in the song “All For You.” In this song, Hainline showed herself to be the true star of the show. The song had fast, punchy moments, which Hainline performed with brio and vivacity, as well slower and expressive moments, which she delivered with passions. The combination of her heartfelt singing and acting made this number one of the show’s obvious highlights.
The other animals, still skeptical, put Horton on trial for his claims, and threaten to boil the Whos’ speck of dust. At the last minute, the other animals are able to hear the Whos’ pleas for mercy, and let them live. The musical ends with a big number, a reprise of “Oh, The Thinks You Can Think.”
“Seussical” is filled with big showtune numbers like “The Thinks,” which is unfortunate as the band, consisting of only four members, sounded too empty to provide ample accompaniment to the energy on stage. During songs that required a denser, fuller sound, a four-member band didn’t quite cut it. The band’s smallness, however, was actually beneficial in some of the quieter, more emotionally charged numbers to create an intimate sound. In “All For You,” the love Gertrude feels for Horton was complimented from the pit by lyrical violin lines, and low chords on the piano, with the drumming limited to sporadic cymbal hits.
The singers and the band, however, were not always in harmony. Throughout the play, there was a lack of coordination between the pit and the stage. Many times, singers were out-of-rhythm with the band, such as in “Here On Who.” This lack of coordination extended to all the other areas of the play. The stage direction and dancing was, at many points, very sloppy. During the huge numbers which had most of the cast on stage, the dancing and movements of the jungle animals in the chorus weren’t smoothly synchronized, while at other points, actors were visibly uncertain about their cues.
Perhaps it wasn’t a great idea to move the musical to this time of year. Musicals are, by their very nature, harder to put together than a comedy or drama without music. The show would have turned out better had it been in the Fall, but given the circumstances, the cast and crew of “Seussical” managed to put on a show that was fun despite its lack of coordination and mishaps.