SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (WFRV) – Theatrical productions have a life of their own from place to place. Sheboygan Theatre Company’s “Seussical” is especially distinctive.
In telling the story, hired-in director Anthony Bruno creates a sweep that embraces a visual, movement and team blend.
Knowing the space from his previous experience with “The Addams Family,” Anthony Bruno takes charge and creates a palate that says urban and youthfulness and energy – all the while delivering the rhythms and meanings and subtleties of Theodore Geisel, Dr. Seuss, cleverly interpreted in musical form.
Three more performances remain in Horace Mann Middle School’s Leslie W. Johnson Theatre, which is part amphitheater, part thrust theater and part flat-front theater.
“Seussical” comes in layers. One: It is cute, the story of an elephant that sits on an egg while trying to save the people of a world on a speck. Another: It is powerful, the story of a boy hauled off to war. When his mother believes he isn’t coming back, a pall envelops the audience as it likely thinks of what’s happening today on the other side of the world.
In the story, the lively Cat in the Hat (Joe Phillips) tells of the boy JoJo (Bee Rudell) and the big things JoJo thinks in a tiny place called Whoville that is presided over by the Mayor, JoJo’s straightlaced mother (Kristin Sorenson). In the world, Whoville is a mere bit of dust – yet very important for carrying one of the messages tucked into the show: “A person’s a person no matter how small.” The reference may seem to be about size, but the implication is a person is a person, period, so respect any differences from yourself.
Kind-hearted Horton The Elephant (Timmy Wiverstad) recognizes the jeopardy Whoville is in, so he places its speck-world in a clover for safekeeping. Caring less are The Sour Kangaroo (Eulalia Carriveau) and the rough-and-tumble Wickershams (Brady Baker, Ava Childs and Lukas Reschke). Care-less attitudes lead Whoville’s temporary home to be tossed into a field of clover. Horton the Elephant sets off on a desperate search to bring Whoville to safety.
Big in the story are two birds who are the center of lessons. Gertrude McFuzz (Danielle Rammer) is a be-careful-what-you-wish-for lesson. Gertrude has a one-feather tail, and when she gets a wish for a grandiose plume, she can no longer fly and come to the aid of Horton the Elephant, who tugs her heartstrings. Mayzie LaBird (Lindsay Rick) is a look-at-what-selfishness-does lesson. Mayzie is a saucy party girl who takes advantage of Horton the Elephant’s kind heart while she goes off to play around the world.
Not only do the players (some in multiple roles) get into their characters, the company gets into sharing the colorful adventures in the tale, like ones set off by the blustery General Genghis Khan Schmitz (Corrine M Schultz).
Every production of “Seussical” has this story. Sheboygan Theatre Company’s tells it with showy muscle.
The place is a city park named Geisel Playground. A two-story building is across the street. Inside a chain-link fence are a wall with colorful murals, things to climb on, a sand box, a plastic geodesic dome and, eventually, a swing that becomes part of an exuberant circus scene spiced by the robust orchestra. The performance space’s half-circle floor is akin to the asphalt of a playground upon which JoJo and others draw maps and artistic designs. At the end of the show, audience members get into the act, drawing and dancing galore.
The habitues of the park are individualistic in dress and look – hair styles, nose and ear accoutrements, boot wear and general urban clothing fashion – all radiating a certain energy.
Movement, choreographed by Anthony Bruno, includes vigor-dancing along with a group intertwined flow. That element is part of a vision of blending space, story, look and action.
Performances are zesty. Joe Phillips commands attention with The Cat in the Hat’s wily ways. Timmy Wiverstad is a better actor than singer, though his characterization fills Horton with soul. Voices of Bee Rudell, Kristin Sorenson, Lindsay Rick, Eulalia Carriveau and Danielle Rammer spread color in their songs. At age 14, Bee Rudell is ahead of the curve in the clarity of singing and creation of character.
Side note: Sound once was a bugaboo in the theater, taking performances down a notch. Not so with “Seussical.” Singing carries well.
“Seussical” is about thinking and imagination and individuality. All that is right there in living proof in Sheboygan Theatre Company’s dynamic production.
Running time: Two hours, two minutes
Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. May 20; 2 and 7:30 p.m. May 21
Creative: Based on the works of Dr. Seuss: music – Stephen Flaherty; lyrics – Lynn Ahrens; book – Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens; concept – Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty and Eric Idle; Sheboygan Theatre Company director/choreographer – Anthony Bruno; musical director – Erin LaFond; rehearsal accompanist – Sandy Kasten; production stage manager – Katy Ries; assistant stage managers – Candice LaPoint, Claudia Noordyk; co-dance captains – Brady Baker, Elizabeth Kaufmann; costume designers – Beth Wynveen, Jamie Wynveen; lighting designer – Lisa Stewart; master electrician – Lee Schneider; make-up and hair co-designers – Ariel Ludlum, Autumn Schultz; properties crew chief – Jackie Blindauer; assistant properties crew chief – Jessica Freeman; scenic designer – Nan Gibson; sound designer – Amanda Ellis; production manager – Jackie Blindauer; executive director – Tricia Roberts
Cast (in order of appearance)
JoJo – Bee Rudell
The Cat in the Hat – Joe Phillips
Horton the Elephant – Timmy Wiverstad
Gertrude McFuzz – Danielle Rammer
A Sour Kangaroo – Eulalia Carriveau
Mayzie LaBird – Lindsay Rick
The Mayor of Whoville – Kristin Sorenson
The Wickershams and others – Brady Baker, Ava Childs, Lukas Reschke
General Genghis Kahn Schmitz and others – Corrine M Schultz
The Grinch and others – Kimberly Xiong
Vlad Vladiknov and others – Nico Torres
Cindy Lou Who and others – Elizabeth Kaufmann
The Court Marshal and others – Becky Marcus
Orchestra: Music director piano 1 – Erin LaFond; piano 2 – Michael Schnell; piano 2 (May 21) – Karen Christopherson; reed 1: piccolo, flute, clarinet, alto and soprano saxopones – Lucas Detwiler; reed 2: clarinet, bass clarinet, oboe, tenor – Paula Harder; trumpet 1 – Eric Sell; trombone – Brian Van Ellis; violin 1 – Amy Beekhuizen; violin 1 (May 21) – Clara Montes; bass – Elizabeth Ellair; bass (May 11, 15) – Michael Beeck; drums – Robert Milanowski
“Oh, the Thinks You Can Think” – Company
“Horton Hears a Who” – Horton, Bird Girls, Cat, Citizens of the Jungle
“Biggest Blame Fool” – Sour Kangaroo, Horton Wickersham Brothers, Bird Girls, Cat, Gertrude, Mayzie, Jojo, Citizens of the Jungle
“Here on Who” – Mr. Mayor, Mrs. Mayor, Citizens of Who, Grinch, Horton
“Oh, the Thinks You Can Think” – Company
“It’s Possible” – Jojo, Cat, Fish
“How to Raise a Child” – Mrs. Mayor
“The Military” – General Genghis Khan Schmitz, Jojo, Cadets
“The Military”/playoff: “Green Eggs and Ham” – General Genghis Khan Schmitz, Jojo, Cadets
“Alone in the Universe” – Horton, Jojo
“The One Feather Tail of Miss Gertrude McFuzz” – Gertrude
“Amazing Mayzie” – Gertrude, Mayzie, Bird Girls
“Amazing Gertrude” – Gertrude, Bird Girls, Cat, Nurse
“Monkey Around” – Wickersham Brothers
“Chasing the Whos” – Sour Kangargoo, Bird Girls, Wickersham Brothers, Cat, Horton, Whos, Grinch, Citizens of the Jungle
“How Lucky You Are” – Cat
“Notice Me, Horton” – Gertrude, Horton
“How Lucky You Are” (Reprise) – Mayzie, Cat
“Horton Sits on the Egg” – Horton, Bird Girls, Gertrude, Cat, Jojo, Whos
“Egg, Nest, and Tree” – Sour Kangaroo, Bird Girls, Wickersham Brothers, Citizens of the Jungle
“The Circus McGurkus” – Company
“Mayzie in Palm Beach”/“How Lucky You Are” (Reprise) – Mayzie, Cat
“Mayzie at the Circus”/“Amazing Horton” – Mayzie, Horton
“Alone in the Universe” (Reprise) – Horton
“Solla Sollew” – Horton, Jojo, Mr. Mayor, Mrs. Mayor
“Green Eggs and Ham II”
“Into The Who’s Christmas Pageant” – The Whos
“The Grinch Carved the Roast Beef”
“A Message from the Front”/ “Solla Sollew” (Reprise) – General and Mrs. Mayor
“JoJo Alone in the Universe” – JoJo
“Havin’ a Hunch” – Cat, Jojo, Hunches
“All for You” – Gertrude, Bird Girls
“The People Versus Horton the Elephant” – Company
“Yopp!”/“Alone in the Universe” (Reprise) – Gertrude, Horton
“Oh, the Thinks You Can Think”/ Finale – Company
“Green Eggs and Ham” – Company
THE VENUE: The 870-seat Leslie W. Johnson Theatre in Horace Mann Middle School is a one-of-a-kind theater space for Northeastern Wisconsin. Its layout creates special demands that can lead to rewards in unique theatergoing. The spacious facility is in the shape of an amphitheater with steep stairways. The seats are red. The ceiling is high. The front row of seats is on the performance level, which is a half circle. A proscenium (flat front) stage area extends across the rear line of the half circle. Located at 2820 Union Avenue, the school was built in 1970. The aura of the lobby and theater combined is that of a community gathering place.
SIDE STORY: The theater includes a lobby display with bits of the company’s history. Included is a photo from the December 1943 production of “Arsenic and Old Lace.” In it, 12 men stand on stage. A first thought is a question: An all-male cast in the comedy about a couple of spinsters in the midst of World War II? An online newspaper archive tells the story: The spinsters buried 12 men in their basement, and, as a gag, the men in the photo took to the stage to appear as the “deceased” during the curtain call.
THE PEOPLE: Leslie W. Johnson was a Sheboygan superintendent of schools. Horace Mann (1796-1859) was a leader in the development of public education in the United States, including the teaching of teachers.