November 1, 2019
Fun is so fun, so run, run, run – to ‘Seussical’
By John Busbee for The Culture Buzz
Des Moines Young Artists’ Theatre (DMYAT) begins their 2019-2020 season with a joyous romp in the land of Dr. Seuss. As this organization evolved from its origins at the Des Moines Unitarian Church to Des Moines OnStage to its current form, it has remained true to its core mission: to provide regional youth a unique program to fully express themselves through the power of theatre. Seussical Jr brings a bounty of metro-wide talent together in a creative, fully energized production through the multi-colored lens of Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss.
DMYAT has refined its niche in Central Iowa, appealing to a broad spectrum of youth desiring a hands-on opportunity to gain experience and skills in the world of theatre. These young participants are drawn to what theatre offers: freedom of expression, the short-term sense of tribe and the opportunity to explore more opportunities than they often have in their own schools. This successful strategy has developed a strong network of students, families and patrons who understand that creative immersion is beneficial for developing the best next-generation leaders.
If you come to this show looking for mind-blowing scenic design, please lessen your expectations. This is a minimalist design concept, giving full focus on the story and the ensemble delivering that story. After all, isn’t that what Seuss is all about? Imagination? Seussical Jr will captivate young and old alike, and is a great way to expand young minds who have become familiar with the irresistible lyricism of Seuss’s books and see those wondrous characters, stories and lessons delivered live. Seussical Jr is a clever mashup of select elements from the world of its creator. Audiences likely will refresh their young companions’ fantasies with reminders of Horton the Elephant, the Cat in the Hat, JoJo, the Whos, Gertrude McFuzz, Mayzie, the Kangaroos, Yertle the Turtle and Vlad Vladikoff. Add a plethora of scene-filling support characters, and this musical Seussian world is full, ready to rock your socks off, all bedecked in costumes from the outlandish to rainbows of color.
As a grand master of mischief, Ridge Chadley Rutherford’s Cat in the Hat is pure delight. Rutherford commanded his scenes, adding backdrop subtleties. As the story thread’s dominant character, Horton, Hunter West brings a soft-hearted pachydermal appeal to his role. Some adjustments need to be made to his sound, though, as his softer singing passages too often were lost. As JoJo, Horton’s Who friend, Dawson Huinker brings a consistence to the role, with a vulnerability due the Whos’ precarious situation. Gertrude McFuzz, thanks to Greta Paulsen’s yearning touch (especially in her feature song, “Gertrude McFuzz,” delivered with marvelous humor), adds a special side story to Horton’s dual calamity of protecting the Whos and Mayzie’s abandoned egg. Mayzie is given irresponsible sass by Elizabeth James. Add the wonderful physicality of Gbomi Kayode as Yertle the Turtle, the lurking pack of Wichershams (Kaleb Bedwell, Evie Smith and, especially, leader of the pack, Noah Lin Nyguard), and a cast of seemingly thousands to enhance the story, and this Seussical Jr brings plenty of laughs, smiles and delights to the audience. The music will ring through your head well pat final bows, from the bouncy opening number, “Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!” to “Meet JoJo Who/How to Raise a Child” to the lively “Monkey Around.”
DMYAT is a great producer of family live theatre fare, and should be on anyone’s list of shared experiences if you have students you’d like to share a meaningful cultural experience with. Seussical Jr is an exceptional opportunity to let the young ones you’ve been reading the classical Dr. Seuss stories see what happens when those stories and characters come to vibrant life on the stage.
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