Stage: Seussical! – The Lyric Theatre, Gold Reef City Casino, Johannesburg
(until January 12, 2020)
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
A PAIR of oven gloves flopping over the sides of a cap to suggest elephant ears. A mop as a stalk of clover. A ladder as a ship, a rake as the crown on the Statue of Liberty, and umbrellas and dirtbins suggesting trees.
These are just some of countless clever moments in the wonderland of creativity that is the colourful and fully captivating Seussical, a new and inventively revisited staging of what started out as a Broadway musical that premiered in 2000 and hit London’s West End in 2012.
This slick and energetic new version, produced by &CO, the Johannesburg theatre company formed in 2017 by the hard-working team of Drew and Rowan Bakker, runs for just over an hour without an interval. A revisiting of the pruned, 2012 off-Broadway version of the sung-through musical, it’s a show laden with catchy songs, performed by a well-cast team of 10, and emerges as a joyous romp ideal for family holiday fun.
Based on several Dr Seuss stories – including Horton Hears a Who, Horton Hatches the Egg and Gertrude McFuzz – the production has been adapted especially for young audiences from the Broadway show, and mostly focuses on loveable jungle elephant, Horton.
He’s a caring and sweet soul, deftly played by Mortimer Williams, who discovers an entire community living in Whoville, a place that has ended up on a speck of dust that Horton places on a clover leaf and guards for most of the show, while interacting with a family in Whoville and various animals.
Among them are the show’s narrator, The Cat in the Hat (Musanete Sakupwanya) and a trio of mischievous monkeys (Danny Meaker, Musanete Sakupwanya and Naledi Award-winner for his Harpo in The Color Purple, Yamikani Mahaka-Phiri).
We also see Horton crossing paths with a vain, naughty and flamboyant bird called Mayzie La Bird (an ebullient Carly Graeme, whose stage credits include Mamma Mia and Starlight Express). Not forgetting my personal favourites – a team of sassy kangaroos (vocal standouts Lois du Plessis and Danelle Cronje) and the sweet and innocent Gertrude McFuzz, a one-tailed bird with a heavy crush on Horton, played with oodles of charm by Chantal Stanfield.
Also pertinent to the plot and, like all in the cast, filling other smaller roles, are Whoville residents Jojo (Abby Molz), flustered mom (Sarah Richard) and her husband, Mr Mayor (Mahaka-Phiri again).
The action takes place in a back yard, where two washlines heavy with drying clothing and towels, are strung from each end of a wooden garden shed. There we meet the Cat in the Hat, who signposts the road to imaginative thinking and guides the audience to the Jungle of Nool, where Horton ‘s story unwinds.
Imagination then takes full flight to steer us all from the jungle to the tiniest planet in the sky, to McElligot’s Pool (love the show’s surprise depiction of fish), Circus McGurkus and other places in-between.
Inventively directed by Matthew Counihan, from a concept by Drew Bakker, the show features music supervision by Rowan Bakker, for whom the musical marks the sixth production of Seusssical on which he has worked.
He worked on all of the National Children’s Theatre productions with Francois Theron and, in one incarnation, the current production’s director, Counihan, played Cat in the Hat alongside Theron as Horton.
The current Seussical is playfully choreographed by Sebe Leotlela, designed by Sarah Roberts, features lighting design by Denis Hutchinson and sound design by Mark Malherbe.
The musical features music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Aherns and book by Lynn Aherns and Stephen Flaherty. Co-conceived by Monty Python’s Eric Idle, this ‘theatre for young audiences’ version is presented by special arrangement with Dalro.
The production, which was workshopped as part of RedFest at Redhill School, runs in Johannesburg until January 12 and is so well worth seeing! Tickets cost R100 throughout. Booking is at GoldReefCity.co.za.