By BRUCE DENNILL
Seussical / Directed by Matthew Counihan / Lyric Theatre, Gold Reef City Casino, Ormonde, Johannesburg
This production is a relatively stripped-down, one-act version of the original Broadway musical. The reasoning behind this vision has to do with making the show accessible to children, which makes plenty of sense, given that they were the intended audience for the Dr Seuss books on which the plot is based (mostly Horton Hears A Who, Horton Hatches The Egg and Gertrude McFuzz) and the clever humour and life lessons in the stories remain as entertaining and important as they did in the 1940s and 1950s when the books were written.
Another link to those times past is the staging, kept purposefully simple in order to highlight the importance of imagination over digital and other trickery. The backdrop for all the action is a small shed and a few strands of washing line, strewn with various clothes, tablecloths and other bits and pieces that can be used to create or accentuate the characters’ basic costumes. It’s a playful concept in the more serious sense of the word – full of play, as opposed to offhand – and hopefully does suggest (or confirm) to children watching that gadgets and screens are not needed to create kingdoms and new world; all that is needed is whatever prop is to hand and a little creativity and resourcefulness.
The cast features some formidable talents. Mortimer Williams is the caring Horton, whose gentle concern for tiny creatures he can hear but not see is contrasted with his steely commitment to look after them – and later an egg he is dumped with after ill-advisedly doing someone a favour. It’s unusual to have a protagonist with such a complete lack of arrogance or hubris, and Williams does a wonderful job in the role. Carly Graeme plays Mayzie La Bird (plus a couple of other feathered creatures), who is as close to a villain as the piece has, abusing Horton’s generosity for her own gain. Graeme has a blast, mugging around merrily and raising the piece’s loudest laughs. In contrast, Chantal Stanfield’s Gertrude McFuzz inspires a touch of melancholy as she laments her perceived lack of attractiveness to Horton and tries to fix cosmetic concerns rather than believing in herself. Stanfield also has some of the most convincing musical moments, including the solo Notice Me, Horton.
If a production is judged by the lavishness of its presentation, Seussical may begin on the back foot for audiences used to big-budget extravagance. But it has truckloads of heart, engaging music and enthusiastic performances from its experienced, gifted cast. And the potential for the promotion of inspired imagination is endless. Oh, the thinks you could think, kids…