On Theater: 'Seussical' cast brings Seuss' world to live

South Coast Repertory's Summer Players, the cream of the theater's conservatory crop, are the professional actors of tomorrow and, judging by their marvelous production of "Seussical," tomorrow may not be too far away.

These are actors from 9 to 22 years old, all students in or graduates of SCR's Theater Conservatory. Their "term paper" each year is a full-scale musical production under the tutelage of Hisa Takakuwa, director of the conservatory program.

By choosing "Seussical," a popular musical by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens and based on the writings of children's guru Dr. Seuss, Takakuwa has given her 27-member ensemble an opportunity to shine both individually and collectively. Decked out in the ultra-colorful costumes of Sara Ryung Clement, who also designed the brightly hued unit setting, SCR's musical fantasy is a joyous experience for young and old alike.

"Seussical," like Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods," presented here a year ago, is an amalgamation of familiar storybook characters blended together by a common narrative thread. The central figure is Horton (Kelsey Kato), the big-hearted elephant who "hears a Who," one of the tiny people of an inner kingdom, and sets out to save them. That is, once he's through egg-sitting for an egotistical bird (Kailyn Dunkelman), both of whom shine in contrasting assignments.

Along the way he encounters a sympathetic soul, single-feathered bird Gertrude McFuzz (Bahaar Taddjbakhsh), and an unsympathetic critter, the Sour Kangaroo (Allie McGrublian). Both are beautifully rendered in the SCR production.

Acting as ringmaster over this three-ring satirical circus is the Cat in the Hat, the mischievous feline smoothly enacted by Nick Slimmer, who bonds with the rebellious JoJo (Kelsey Bray, a young lady nicely doing a boy's role).

JoJo gets "drafted" into an army of sorts under the iron fist of General Genghis Khan Schmitz (Brandon Barnes), and they make a "sound off" chant with Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham." Barnes is razor sharp in his delivery, but no military leader worth his salt would ever be found sporting a mullet such as his.

Nicholas Huntley and Sophia Falmagne are fine as JoJo's hapless parents, while William Hopper makes a convincing Grinch. Barnes returns to do double duty as Judge Yertle the Turtle in Horton's mock trial.

Technically, the production is beautifully imagined, from Clement's setting and costumes, to Karyn D. Lawrence's lighting plot and Sam Lerner's sound design. Kelly Todd contributes some tricky choreography, played out splendidly to Erin McNally's musical orchestrations.

Seuss' (Theodor Geisel) overriding messages of friendship, loyalty and commitment ring true throughout the SCR production, which closes its brief engagement this weekend on the Julianne Argyros Stage. Would that it had several more weekends to enhance and enchant.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.

If You Go

What: "Seussical"

Who: South Coast Repertory Conservatory Players

Where: Julianne Argyros Stage, 650 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: Closing performances at 1 and 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Cost: $12 to $14

Information: (714) 708-5555 or http://www.scr.org

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