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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Seussical opens up a world of imagination

Published: March 21, 2013
Section: Arts, Etc., Featured

Dr. Seuss once said, “I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.” The enduring quality of a Dr. Seuss novel has always been its ability to transport readers to an incredibly imaginative world where valuable wisdom can come from even the smallest and unassuming person. Tapping into this message of nonsensical adventure, Hillel Theater Group’s production of “Seussical” truly brought the beloved and fantastical world of Dr. Seuss’s books to audiences this past weekend.

Directed by Helena Raffel ’14 and Bethany Greenbaum ’16, “Seussical” reconnected audiences to their childhood by bringing to the stage some of Dr. Seuss’s most iconic characters and novels, such as: “Horton Hears a Who!,” “The Lorax,” “The Cat in the Hat” and just for fun, “How The Grinch Stole Christmas”—just to name a few—through the setting of a musical. The story of Seussical fuses together these various novels into a fun amalgamation both humorous and uniquely whimsical that is part of the Seussical experience.

Despite combining such an array of novels, the plot of “Seussical” centers around the story of “Horton Hears A Who!.” One day, in the Jungle of Nool, the friendly and faithful elephant, Horton, played by Aaron Hentoff ’16, hears faint noises. Upon inspection, Horton eventually discovers the noise to be coming from the people of Whoville, who live on a tiny grain of dust. Horton pledges to protect the Whos despite being thought of as crazy by the other residents of the Jungle of Nool. Hentoff was great as Horton, as he was able to bring out the genuine kindness and naivete of Horton that made audience root for the caring elephant. At the same time, his portrayal of Horton’s conviction to defend the Whos despite the ostracism from his friends was easily believable.

As the plotlines progress, the lens of Dr. Seuss zooms into the microscopic world of Whoville where we meet Jojo, a boy character played by Nicole Wittels ’15, and his efforts to stop thinking “thinks” to please his parents. At this point, we also become more familiar with the ever-mischievous character of The Cat in the Hat (Jason Haberman ’15), who takes on the part of narrator throughout the show. Coaxed by The Cat in the Hat to keep on thinking his “thinks,” Jojo’s daydreaming eventually causes his parents to send him to military school led by the menacing General Schmitz (Matt Crowley ’15). From there, the plot develops into a truly wondrous tale as the heroes overcome their individual doubts to realize the power of their own self-belief.

Despite such an intricate plot line, the actors of the production were fully committed to their roles that kept the musical clear and easy to follow. Wittels shined in her singing and unobtrusive sweetness as the character of Jojo. Through their acting, both Wittels and Hentoff brought out their character’s loneliness from being misunderstood from how they think in a way that was incredibly honest and sincere. In contrast to their subtle acting, Haberman was over the top and larger than life, which made his performance as The Cat in the Hat memorable. With a beguiling smirk on the stage, Haberman showcased the spontaneity of his character that kept audience suspenseful on what crazy thing he would do next.

Other standouts included Kristi Freedman ’14 as Gertrude, Caley Chase ’16 as Mayzie, Valarie Timms ’16 as Mrs. Mayor, and Micheline Bellmore ’15 as the Sour Kangaroo. Freedman, as the single-feather bird Gertrude who has a little soft spot in her heart for Horton, was remarkable in her poise and beautiful singing voice. For the same talent in singing, Chase and Bellmore also gave some of the best vocals of the show. Channeling such divas like Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin, Bellmore as the Sour Kangaroo was phenomenal in how she was able to belt out her sassy attitude and lines, while Chase was sinfully arresting as the devious Mayzie. Also worthy of note were Abby Kirshbaum ’16 and Courtney Comart ’16, as Thing 1 and Thing 2 respectively, who both entertained the audience throughout the show with their antics and endearing tomfoolery.

In addition to the cast members’ excellent performance, the contribution and hard work of the set and costume designers truly brought the colorful world of Dr. Seuss alive. The vibrant colors that splashed the stage in the characteristically concentric circles by set designer Barbara Rugg ’15 provided the perfect background for actors to dance, run, and cartwheel on. Equally impressive was the costume editing by Shayna Rubenstein ’16 and Fiona Merullo ’16, which helped make the show visually bright.

The live music ensemble that accompanied the actors was the last element that pulled the musical together. At times, however, the ensemble was overpowering and actors without headsets were unable to deliver their lines against the music. Regardless, minor issues in acoustical balance did not take away from brilliance of the total production of the musical and the universality of its underlying themes that it presented.