NORMAN — Oh, the things you will see in the University of Oklahoma’s performance of “Seussical the Musical.”
Dr. Seuss’ most famous characters Horton the Elephant, The Cat in the Hat, Gertrude McFuzz, lazy Mayzie, and Whoville’s tiniest hero, JoJo, come together in a fun-filled adventurous story of friendship.
Under the guidance of Director Lyn Cramer, the 17-person cast produced the junior production version of the Broadway original, in a fast-paced, high-energy 75-minute production.
The show runs 8 p.m. tonight and 3 p.m. Sunday at Rupel J. Jones Theatre, 563 Elm Ave. For tickets, call the fine arts ticket office at 405-325-4101. Tickets are $30 adult, $25 seniors/OU faculty and staff/military, and $15 students with ID.
JoJo, played by Oklahoma City elementary student Campbell Walker Fields, brings Seussical to life when he imagines seeing the Cat in the Hat and magically makes him appear through an oversized version of the famous hat sitting center stage.
The Cat in the Hat, played by Jamie Goldman, represents JoJo’s imagination. Goldman’s friendly portrayal and fluid movements make him safe to youngsters and irresistible for adults to follow.
JoJo is a precocious elementary age boy whose mind is bigger than his body. Fields looks like many a young schoolboy dressed in a slightly oversized un-tucked T-shirt, khaki pants and plastic rim glasses. Fields’ well-controlled voice keeps pace with Brett Uram, who plays Horton the Elephant, during “Alone in the Universe.”
The tale of Horton and JoJo is the same from Seuss’ book “Horton Hears a Who!” Horton is the only one who can hear JoJo’s cries from the microscopic village of Whoville. Both feel dismissed and unheard, but together their friendship empowers them both. During a duet, they sing, I have a “friend in the universe who believes in me.”
Gertrude, a bird with a very small tail, in turn believes in Horton. Gertrude, played by Alexis Bruza, admires Horton’s kind heart and hopes to one day earn his affection. Gertrude’s role is to illustrate the frustration and exasperation children often feel when they begin to realize they are different from others. Bruza’s tweaked voice gives Gertrude an air of innocence. Her oversized facial expressions underlined by moments of foot stomping and hand-on-the-hip declarations look just like a child’s.
Together these three try to protect each other from the actions of the Sour Kangaroo and monkey Wickersham Brothers. In the end, JoJo saves the day when he shouts a big “YOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOP!” that Horton, Gertrude and all the others can finally hear.
Long-time OU musical theater professor Cramer reveals her whimsical side in her direction and choreography. She uses dramatic moves to accentuate the cartoon-like feel of the musical. The three Wickersham monkeys run in place with high knees to the sides while Horton slowly runs in front. Horton’s arms and legs are outstretched to show the great effort it takes for an elephant to run from agile monkeys.
OU’s production still engages adults with Dr. Seuss’ hypnotic rhyming dialogue and Costume Designer Lloyd Cracknell’s eye-grabbing creations that turn the actors into the animals they portray.
Most animal characteristics are only noticeable through specific bodily movements like when Horton uses his arm to simulate an elephant’s trunk or a single costume element as in the bird girls oversized feather tails.
The fish are the rare full-costume in the production. They sparkle in the dim light, flapping their fins towards us as they sing “ohh-aww-ohh”.
Cramer’s director’s notes, written as a tribute to Seuss’ rhyming schemes, reminds us of Seuss’ belief that “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”