Thursday, January 30, 2003

'Seussical' can't hit high notes

Theater review

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Seussical the Musical is one of those cases of bad things happening to good people.

Who doesn't love the rhymes of Dr. Seuss? Who isn't charmed by the winsome songs of Flaherty and Ahrens? The cast is amiable as can be, with a real standout talent in Garrett Long as Gertrude McFuzz, the girl bird with a single tail feather who hopes to attract the attention of Horton the Elephant.

But a lot has happened between Broadway and the road, and Seussical, which has spent its brief stage life getting "fixed" has finally been "fixed" into a theatrical near-death experience.

A very energetic and sincere cast are providing life support at the Aronoff Center, where the show continues through Feb. 9 as part of Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Cincinnati.

There are two story lines in Seussical. The first follows kindly Horton (Eric Leviton) who hears a tiny cry for help and discovers the smallest planet in the universe on a speck of dust floating madly through the air.

He manages to save Whoville and its citizens, but not before he has to save it again, even as he's distracted by nesting on the egg of Mayzie LaBird, taking a little break from expectant motherhood.

There's a straightforward story line here that invites our emotional involvement, and it's easy to cheer for Mr. Leviton and Ms. Long.

The second story follows young Jojo (Drake English) in Whoville, who is being constantly punished and scolded for thinking and dreaming.

Its Lessons for Life are heavy-handed in a way Dr. Seuss never is. Just as irritating, it caroms here, there and everywhere - under the sea, off to military school and to war - with as much logic as a game of pinball. Too much of it feels like killing time.

The plots are primarily tied together by the Cat in the Hat, moved to the center of the action for the tour. The Cat's job is to dabble in chaos, causing trouble for everyone.

Cathy Rigby does the honors agreeably and the one-time gymnast does more flying than when she dons her Peter Pan costume. She puts in a little time visiting with the younger members of the audience, too. She's always engaging, but like too much of this show, it feels calculated.

Pleasant as the ensemble is, there's no disguising that this is a tour on the cheap. Wherever pennies can be pinched they are. A plain black curtain is good enough for the touring backdrop. (It recollects high school assemblies.)

But some decisions defy logic. At one point Mayzie and her back-up trio mock poor Gertrude for only having one tail-feather. But unless my eyes deceive me, they have no plumage at all. (On Broadway they all had quite the feathered display.)

Seussical the Musical, through Feb. 9, Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Cincinnati, Aronoff Center Procter and Gamble Hall, 241-7469.


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