Springfield’s Muni Opera was blessed with a dry, comfortable evening for opening night of Seussical the Musical July 10. The show, based on Dr. Seuss’ popular books including Horton Hears a Who and Miss Gertrude McFuzz, has a super-strong cast with outstanding voices and plenty of enthusiasm.
Muni veterans Dennis O’Brien and Stephan Kaplan co-direct the production. “Our cast has been a gift from God,” Kaplan said. “They are intelligent, wildly talented, compassionate and respectful in every way. They follow direction and there is not a diva among them.”
Seussical is a fast-paced medley of familiar and lesser-known Dr. Seuss characters, stories and songs.
Riley McManus gives a clever, spirited performance as The Cat in the Hat, who narrates the story. He pretty much owns the stage, his dancing and stagecraft being as strong as his voice.
Andrew Kinsel is perfect as the earnest elephant, Horton, who protects the microscopic Whos of Whoville, because “a person’s a person no matter how small.” Young Alex Remolina gives a strong, confident performance as the boy Jojo. Sydney Assalley is a smash as a bawdy Mayzie LaBird, and Chloe Mimms is a saucy Sour Kangaroo with attitude.
Jojo is an independent thinker frequently landing in trouble with the authorities and the status quo. He is eventually sent off to the military to straighten up. He bonds with Horton the Elephant, a sensitive type committed to caring for the defenseless, including the bird egg he sits on for 51 weeks after Mayzie abandons it.
Hannah Siehr gives a zesty portrayal of Gertrude McFuzz, the bird with the little tail who has a crush on Horton the elephant. She tries to impress him by growing her tail out and flaunting it, but Horton just doesn’t notice. Her quest to woo him makes modest Gertrude feisty. She sings “Notice Me, Horton,” and eventually he does. As the show ended on opening night, everyone around me was talking about Siehr’s Gertrude.
“Hannah is the best natural comedienne I’ve ever seen on a Springfield stage,” O’Brien said. “She reminds me of Carol Burnett.”
The songs, including “A Person is a Person No Matter How Small,” “The Thinks You Can Think” and “Alone in the Universe” are pure Seuss. Some of the sets are crafted remarkably like Dr. Seuss illustrations, like the one for bird Mayzie sitting on her egg and the Circus McGurkus scene.
Dr. Seuss author Theodor Seuss Geisel’s themes of conformity, finding one’s voice and opposition to war appear throughout the musical.
“War is a thing that does every boy good,” General Schmitz, played well by Jeff Prince, says to his young charges. Jojo, who can think for himself, responds angrily, “Why are you here teaching children to fight?” Later, General Schmitz concedes, “He did not want to fight and he might have been right.”
Seussical was first staged at the Muni five years ago. The directors brought it back to turn on a new generation of kids to theater, O’Brien said. The show certainly offers youngsters in the community an opportunity to learn the craft and fun of theater. This cast of 51 includes 13 children. Two-year-old Addison Bonn, daughter of Daniel and Mary Bonn who are actively involved with Muni productions, made her debut at the end of the show.
After being asked by his mom if he liked Seussical, a young fellow behind me said, “I didn’t like it Mom, I loved it!” The show will make you want to run home and reread all your Dr. Seuss books.
Seussical is sponsored by accounting firm McGladrey. This season marks the 50th anniversary of The Muni.
Seussical begins at 8:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, July 16-18 and July 23-25 at 815 East Lake Drive. Tickets range from $6 to $14. There is both lawn seating and reserved seating with ample leg room. For more information see TheMuni.org.
Ginny Lee of Springfield, longtime contributor to Illinois Times, is a writer and photographer.