Nancy Sasso Janis
- OnStage Connecticut Critic
“If you open your mind, Oh, the thinks you will find, Lining up to get loose…”
The Warner Theatre Stage Company invited 700 audience members to look “at life through the wrong end of a telescope” for opening night of their splashy summer production of ‘Seussical: The Musical.’ These are the words that Dr. Seuss himself used to describe how fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living and director Richard McKenna, in his main stage directorial debut, has brought fantasy to life in a big way with this whimsical, joyful and very colorful production.
Mr. McKenna got involved with the Warner Theatre when he was “just a kid,” and he never left. In fact, he considers the Warner to be a second home and the people there as a second family. Dressed in a tuxedo, this “much older kid” was bursting with pride for his cast members following the opening night performance.
The first-time director showed a knack for perfectly casting the right person for each role as he filled the large stage with local community theatre talent. He was lucky to have TJ Thompson as musical director/conductor and the pit that played one of my favorite scores included Meric Martin on guitar, Scott Friend on trumpet, Dan Ringuette on keyboard and James Allen on drums. WSC Production Manager Sharon A. Wilcox was responsible for the adorable choreography, and after she and Mr. McKenna did the curtain speech in rhyme, she served as a member of the running crew dressed as Thing 1.
I never tire of hearing the music written by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics of Lynn Ahrens, who also wrote the book for ‘Seussical’ that they co-conceived with Eric Idle. It is based on 19 of the “wubbulous” works of Dr. Seuss, but mostly Horton Hears A Who. The overarching plot reminds us that “a person’s a person, no matter how small” in such a lovely way as Jojo tries to find his way home and Horton the elephant sits on Mayzie’s large egg and watches over the Whos.
A good-sized group actors of various sizes played the Whos and I loved when they moved together as a tight group. Shout outs to Elisabeth Leifert (‘Ragtime,’) Kerri Morris, NTT’s Alexander Tenbrink, and Claire Roberts, who played Mrs. Mayor in Blessed Sacrament School’s production of ‘Seussical.’ Another group got to play the animal citizens of the Jungle of Nool and there was a fine subset of featured dancers for “It’s Possible” and other numbers. Shout outs to dancer Jake Finch (Landmark’s ‘Billy Elliot,’) Western CT State University sophomore Katie Kelly, and the lovely Kelsey Morris. The smallest cast members were the cadets with General Gengus Kahn Schmitz (sternly played by Conrad Sienkiewicz.)
Jake Kordas was the dog of the green Grinch (Adam Fancher) and Dylan Zawisza played Vlad. Joe Guttadauro judged as Yertle, the Turtle. WCSU sophomore Raymond Cook, Theron Johnson and Michael Newman got to monkey around as updated Wickersham Brothers. Chase Collegiate junior Veronica Johnson, WCSU student Caleigh Lozito, and the talented Kennedy Morris sang backup as anime-inspired Bird Girls.
AlexaRae Campagna (Regina in ‘Rock of Ages’) nailed the role of the Sour Kangaroo; she raised the roof on her solos and looked amazing in her one piece kangaroo costume. Mary C.Johnson joined her children onstage as the amazing Mayzie La Bird, and was, well, amazing, as usual.
Sara Wilson, who I remembered from the ensemble of ‘Ragtime,’ did a great job in the role of Mrs. Mayor and JD Bauer was ever at her side as Mr. Mayor. Josh Newey (who was so good as Uncle Fester in ‘The Addams Family) gave a heartfelt performance in the role of the Horton the Elephant as he repeated his plaintive reminders about personhood. Samuel Everett was a bouncy and mischievous Cat in the Hat and Trevor Rinaldi was simply wonderful as young Jojo.
It was so exciting to see Maggie Gillette in her Warner Stage debut as Gertrude McFuzz. I remembered her as Morticia at Nonnewaug High School and she is now a rising sophomore studying acting at Ithaca College. Ms. Gillette was perfect for the role of the bird who adores her neighbor Horton and goes to extreme lengths to get him to notice her. Kudos to this young actress on a smashing debut on the magnificent Warner stage.
And then there were the costumes….Renee C. Purdy and Aurora Montenero rose to a new level of brilliance for this show. From the black leather vests for the Wickershams, to the whimsical Who and circus outfits, each ensemble was a work of art. The co-costume designers were also in charge of the spectacular wigs, hair and makeup. The multi-leveled Seuss-inspired scenery designed by Steve Houk was fine, if a bit treacherous. There were a few sound issues, unusual for this venue, but the lighting was well-executed.
I recommend that you put this on your list of “not to be missed.” ‘Seussical: The Musical’ runs at the Warner through August 7.
Photos by Mandi Martini.
©2016 The Warner Theatre