SEUSSICAL: Magic at Haddonfield Plays and Players

by Jack Shaw

The Cat in the Hat and other Dr. Seuss characters come to life in Haddonfield Plays and Players rendition of SEUSSICAL THE MUSICAL, playing in Haddonfield NJ through January 22.

It took a genius like Theodore Seuss Geisel or Dr. Seuss to create the remarkable characters, with the delightful story and truly unique dialogue, but it takes a theatre company to make the fantasy he created come to life on stage. I saw that magic happen tonight with Haddonfield Plays and Players’ production of SEUSSICAL, THE MUSICAL.

I have seen SEUSSICAL THE MUSICAL several times, but this time was the most vibrant and alive. I could feel the children excited and enthralled, taking in everything happening on stage and throughout the theatre. The experience brought out the “child” in all of us. Never has my experience with this show compared with what I saw tonight. The enthusiasm and love the community theatre performers had for show came through—a tribute I think to director, Craig Hutchings, who pulled it all together.

The excellent choreography and teamwork on stage was apparent as many actors moved fluidly in this fantasy world–part of a picture, part of many pictures–weaving when necessary but smoothly and deliberately.

The staging was different from previous productions I have seen at HPP. Using a modified thrust area (not a raised stage), the entire theatre became the stage as characters perched, hung or darted in from various locations. This kind of staging can be distracting, but I had to smile, saving that thought for another show, as I watched the kids and some of the adults delight in finding some character posed in some way that brought the audience into the action.

I would recommend that the back row seating be elevated where possible. In those back rows, adults and children alike twisted and shifted constantly to see the action. This, in a theatre when conventional staging and seating is used, there is not a bad seat in the house.

As with most musicals, small stages make fancy dance moves difficult at best and the choreographer restrained, having to use less creative movements. Not so here. I was pleasantly surprised. Brian Peeke, who was a perfect “The Cat in the Hat,” doubled as choreographer, and did a wonderful job not crowding the stage with too many actors. Crowding a stage is a pet peeve of mine. Not here. Although I wasn’t sure what to make of the “judge” scene; it worked in an odd sort of way. The judge was upstage and the actors addressed the judge through the audience,–downstage center, left and right. I’m not sure it worked completely for me, but I accepted it in the spirit of the show’s unusual style.

The music is thoroughly engaging, although I think sometimes the orchestra overwhelmed the singers’ voices volume-wise, or the microphone audio not set high enough for the singers. At any rate, this was not a frequent occurrence.

The singers were all terrific, especially young Antony Post, who did an amazing job as “JoJo.” He definitely has a gift. Mike Dumbleton as “Horton,” Brian Peeke as you-know-who, and Cara Davis as “Gertrude McFuzz” gave standout performances as well. Where would we be without “Mayzie LaBird” (Gina Rongone), “Sour Kangaroo” (Sara Stouff) and “General Gengus Khan Schmitz” (Donald Davis)? They all had terrific acts. Speaking of “Sour Kangaroo,” there was not a sour note anywhere. I don’t want to leave anyone out who performed tonight because I
saw magic everywhere–in every one of the cast. Pssst, the singers I mentioned just sang the most by themselves, but the cast as a whole was excellent.

When it comes to great theatre, it is never about one performer, one director or designer; it’s about pulling the magic out of a hat—actually a script. Sure, the show’s been tested on audiences before. Funny thing about audiences; they’re different every time.

For me to appreciate a musical play the story has to have a message, be precisely and passionately performed, and leave me feeling something—or at least like I have experienced some emotion. SUESSICAL THE MUSICAL did all those for me—a truly amazing bit of magic and happiness.

Music by Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics by Lynne Ahrens
Book by Flaherty/Ahrens
Directed by Craig Hutchings
January 6 – 22, 2011
Haddonfield Plays and Players
957 East Atlantic Avenue
Haddonfield, NJ

You may also like

Leave a Reply