CLINTONVILLE, Wis. (WFRV) – One of the songs in the fanciful “Seussical The Musical” says, “It’s possible! Anything’s possible!”
And so along the way in this time of COVID-19 mish-mashing for theater entities, Phoenix Players community troupe ended up presenting a wild-card production in Walter A. Olen Park under a tent Saturday afternoon and night.
The tent provided for two possibilities – sunshine and rain. Both happened on a humid day thick into the 80s.
The use of a tent – approximately 100 by 50 feet – was a first for a theater troupe in our region during the pandemic. Director Brendan Byng told a substantial audience Saturday afternoon it would be the last for Phoenix Players.
Though there were glitches and varied strengths in performances, Phoenix Players’ production was primarily delightful.
The show seemed to be a drawing card for some players to check off roles on their bucket list. Many in the cast came from a distance to, say, sing as a bluesy and grouchy kangaroo or become a flashy fashion-plate exotic bird in dress and make-up and flash big notes as a singer or climb into some razzmatazz as a storytelling cat with a famously stripped top hat.
Brendan Byng has a way of stoking enthusiasm into casts, and that was evident from the get-go, the first song, “Oh, the Thinks You Can Think” by the energetic ensemble.
The story drawn from Dr. Seuss stuff is childlike: Infinitesimal beings living on a speck are befriended by an elephant who not only oversees their safety but sits on an unwanted egg of a fun-seeking tootsie. Spliced in are Seussian commentaries on war, on parenthood, on bias and more. Song and dance are added. Musical theater is often wondrous.
In the story, the lively Cat in the Hat (Christopher Borgardt) tells of the boy Jojo (Ellen Magnin) and the big things Jojo thinks in a tiny place called Whoville that is presided over by Jojo’s straightlaced parents, Mr. Mayor (Austin Borgardt) and Mrs. Mayor (Jolee Jackson). In the world, Whoville is a mere speck – yet very important for carrying one of the messages tucked into the show: “A person’s a person no matter how small.”
Kind-hearted Horton The Elephant (Brandon Byng) recognizes the jeopardy Whoville is in, so he places its speck-world in a clover for safekeeping. Caring less are The Sour Kangaroo (Kim Hammen) and the rough-and-tumble Wickersham Brothers (Marie Newton, Jennifer Steffen and Dalton Zanin). 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 (Molly Schlaak) 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 (Tonie Yankowski) is a look-at-what-selfishness-does lesson. Mayzie is a party girl who takes advantage of Horton the Elephant’s kind heart while she goes off to play around the world.
Not only did the players (some in multiple roles) get into their characters, the company got into sharing the colorful adventures in the tale, like ones set off by the blustery General Genghis Khan Schmitz (Dalton Zanin).
Overall, this was a one-of-a-kind production that the cast – when all was said and done – clearly enjoyed performing and the audience I was with clearly enjoyed experiencing.
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; Phoenix Players director – Brandon Byng; assistant director/choreographer – Marie Newton; vocal coach/rehearsal accompanist – Molly Schlaak; producer – Mary-Beth Kuester; sound and lights – Jacob Newton; costume design – Ellen Magnin
+ The Cat in the Hat – Christopher Borgardt
+ Jojo – Ellen Magnin
+ Horton The Elephant – Brandon Byng
+ Gertrude McFuzz – Molly Schlaak
+ Mayzie LaBird – Tonie Yankowski
+ The Sour Kangaroo – Kim Hammen
+ Wickersham Brother #1, Vlad Vladikoff, Citizen of Who, Cadet, Hunter, Hunch – Marie Newton
+ Wickersham Brother #2, Citizen of Who, Cadet, Nurse, Hunter, Hunch – Jennifer Steffen
+ Wickersham Brother #3, The Grinch, General Genghis Khan Schmitz – Dalton Zanin
+ Bird Girl #1, Hunch, Yertile The Turtle – Sarah Beavers
+ Mr. Mayor – Austin Borgardt
+ Mrs. Mayor – Jolee Jackson
+ Bird Girl #1 – Ritter Leeph
Songs (recorded soundtrack)
“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
“It’s Possible” – Jojo, Cat, Fish
“How to Raise a Child” – Mr. Mayor, Mrs. Mayor
“The Military” – 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
“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
“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 large tent was located near a covered picnic area within walking distance of lavatories in Walter A. Olen Park at 10 Memory Circle in Clintonville. Set on grass, the tent was of all-white fabric. Sides were left open for ventilation. The stage was set up on one end, with two floor levels for performers’ movements and dancing. The backstage area for costume changes was behind the show’s backdrop, a depiction of large clovers of multiple colors. Seating was on plastic chairs. The sound and lights production area was located beneath the tent to the audience’s left. The logistics of performing under the tent speak to the desire of getting the production of “Seussical The Musical” done.
THE PERSON: Walter A. Olen was the first president of the pioneering company in developing powerful vehicles as Badger Four-Wheel Drive Auto Company, later Four Wheel Drive, later FWD and today’s FWD Seagrave. A historical marker at the park says this: “For more than half a century of tireless devotion to the community ideals of a richer life, a fuller freedom and a constant pursuit of happiness, this park is gratefully dedicated to WALTER A. OLEN 1959.”