By Daniel Skora
The Players Guild of Dearborn is presenting “Seussical the Musical”, an assemblage of some of the best books ever written by Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) that have been combined with song and dance and put into a lively stage version. Seuss was both author and illustrator for over 60 children’s books. Together, they have sold over 600 million copies and been translated into more than 20 languages. His books were written in rhyme and illustrated with elaborate and fanciful creatures and places that stretch the boundaries of the imagination.
Though most kids are familiar with what goes on in Seussland and possess imaginations that haven’t yet been stunted by logic and reason, the story upon which the show revolves is a challenging one. It begins with a boy (Jamie Paschke) and a red and white striped top hat. The boy sees the hat, ‘thinks his thinks’ as the grownups who always seem to come out second-best to the children are wont to say, and conjures up its owner, the Cat in the Hat (John Denyer). Imagination is a wonderful thing, and because one thought usually leads to another, the boy’s thoughts have the Cat springing into action and orchestrating the creation of an entirely Seussian world.
Horton (Ron Williams, Jr.), of “Horton Hears a Who”, is front and center of the plot. Mocked by the other animals of the jungle, he longs to have a friend. When he hears a voice coming from a tiny little speck, he thinks he may have found one. He places the speck into a clover and waits, while around him, the thoughts of his conjurer have been given free reign. The result is the appearance of a whole host of fanciful characters. There’s the Sour Kangaroo (Rebecca Herman) followed closely by its young ‘un (Cristina Bertucci). Mayzie La Bird (Samantha York) struts her enormous tail, while the Wickersham Brothers (Ben Apostle, Josh Lisiecki, and Mark Wagner), rascals that they are, make off with Horton’s clover. Gertrude McFuzz has a problem with the size of her tail and the Mayor of Whoville (Tim Carney) and his Mrs. Mayor (Diane Cliff) put on a proper face even while wearing clothes that look like they’ve been wrestled away from a clown.
Vlad Vladikoff (Jack Dombrowski) flies like an eagle on his roller-bladed feet while General Genghis Khan Schmitz (Vincent Hanchon) keeps his youthful army in step. The Bird Girls (Amanda Chatila, Kayla Chavez, and Danielle Riley) never fly away, but are always there, like an avian Greek chorus. Yertle the Turtle disregards the biblical admonition to “Judge not”, and in this show, at least, the Grinch (Tom Sparrow) turns out to be little more than a Seussical extra. Another dozen youngsters fill out the stage as Jungle animals and Whoville citizens.
The story all works out in the end, as all children’s books must, because if it didn’t, no child would read, then no author would write, and God knows what civilization would become if imaginations were no longer fostered in our young. Dr. Seuss didn’t have to end his stories with the words “And they lived happily ever after”, because he knew that children would instinctively know that that was so. After a host of adventures and misadventures, Horton, after being put on display like a common thief and going through a million clovers in search of a friend, eventually recovers the one that holds the talking speck and the love of his life, Miss Gertrude.
Some in the Guild’s cast hold lots of promise, but community theatre is theatre from the heart, and no ever gets paid (at least not in cash). It would be unkind to single out some while neglecting others who bring to the show just as much heart and drive as the more talented. To the friends and relatives in the audience, everyone’s a star, and I’ll leave it up to those in the seats to decide who among the 30-something players in the cast have that little something extra.
The Guild’s production, directed by Valerie Haas, is a lavish spectacle of color, motion, and familiar characters. The complex storyline (by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty) might be a bit much for children (as well as for adults), but taken in bits and scenes, it’s an excitingly fun show. Costumes are the lifeblood of a musical, and designer Karen Drugacz uses a rainbow of colors to create every nip and tuck of every felt and feather to make the characters come alive. The lone disappointment might be Horton. Grayish street clothes topped with a turned-‘round baseball cap does not an elephant make. The set, designed by Kirk Haas with construction and painting assistance coming from a hard-working crew of over two dozen, is bright, colorful, and always a fitting compliment to the action onstage. Choreography, a daunting task with a stage-full of characters always in motion, is the result of the hard work of Janeen Bodary. Music director is Paul Abbott.
Compliments also go out to the Guild for their top-notch programs. The booklet is not only more attractive than those of a lot of professional theatres, but also a great deal more user friendly. Kudos to Brian Townsend, Scott Rider, and Richard Moore.
I must confess to not having been to a Guild show since the comfy new seats were installed. If “Seussical” is anything like what I’ve been missing, I’ve been missing a lot. Don’t you be a miss-er, too. Take a kid, be a kid, remember the joys of reading to your own kid when they would’t complain about sitting in your lap. My favorite Seuss book was always the simplicity yet profundity of “One fish, Two fish, Red fish, Blue fish”. The world of reality could do no worse than being identified as a school of colorful fish, smiling back at you because they had finally achieved peace and tranquility.
The Players Guild of Dearborn has under its belt 88 years of presenting quality theatre to the community. It was founded in 1927 through a joint effort of University of Michigan alumnae and the Men’s Club of Christ Episcopal Church to raise funds for the construction of Women’s League Building on the Ann Arbor Campus. Performances were held at various locations in and around Dearborn until 1949 when construction on the building in which it presently resides was completed. Actors who appeared in Guild productions early in their careers before going on to national acclaim include George Peppard, Chad Everett, and Tom Skerritt.
“Seussicall the Musical” runs through May 22nd. Tickets are available by calling the theatre’s box office at 313.561.8575 or going online at www.PlayersGuildofDearborn.org. The theatre is located at 21730 Madison in Dearborn.