Seussical, presented by PCPA. At Santa Maria’s Marian Theatre, Saturday, November 25. Shows through December 21.
Reviewed by D.J. Palladino
It’s always dangerous to cast children in plays, and more dangerous if they have talent and charisma. I bet Erika Olsen didn’t mean to steal the show from the PCPA regulars, but her relationship with the audience was so direct and ingenuous that when she leapt and threw out her hands to present some simple stage magic, the crowd reacted with gasps. Part of the reason, no doubt, is that we would rather watch a youngster be prodigious than witness adults acting in predictably silly ways that seem calculated to touch the alleged child in all of us. The PCPA grownups aren’t bad, but none of them rise to the level of Olsen. Somehow, the ensemble is much stronger than its parts.
Basically, Seussical is a mash up of Theodor Seuss Geisel’s masterpieces for minors: Horton Hears a Who! and Horton Hatches the Egg being the primary material upon which is festooned bits from Yertle the Turtle, The Cat in the Hat, and I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew, among others. The mix includes many songs — some with the compelling whimsy of Seuss — and much fine dancing.
The play, which most kids will like, boasts great Things One and Two, Seuss-like sets, and cool effects. It’s probably not the arc of the story your kids will most enjoy. Seuss himself might have made a better musical; this is a little artificial. The second half of the evening far outshines the first because the finale’s music makes the play seem pointed, whereas the first act’s themes hang like Whoville on pieces of fluff. I did not like Michael Jenkinson’s Cat in the Hat, and David Studwell’s Horton was fun but a little too simple for a focal point. Heidi Ewert’s vampy big bird was a lot more Auntie Mame than Daisy Maizie. But finally, the credits rest on Olsen’s diminutive shoulders. “A person is important,” says the musical, “no matter how small.” In this show, one small person is more than important; she’s crucial. n