Presented by Nottingham Arts Youth Theatre
Directed by Christopher Mundy
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Choreography by Jessica Royce
Nottingham Arts Theatre
Thursday 3rd February – Saturday 5th February
Welcome to the madcap world of Dr Seuss, where there is fun to be had for all the family. Presented by Nottingham Arts Youth Theatre, Seussical is a larger-than-life show featuring enduring childhood favourites, such as The Cat in the Hat, Horton the Elephant, and Gertrude McFuzz. I must confess I have never seen it performed before, so I am not entirely sure what to expect, but this production turns out to be a breezily bright, crazily colourful, fun-filled night out.
To attempt to summarise the plot is somewhat akin to nailing jelly to a wall, so let’s just go with the flow. The show opens with the familiar red and white striped hat of the aforementioned Cat in the middle of the stage. Cue The Cat in the Hat himself (Louis Barnes-Cupit) and a Boy (Eloïse Rees) whose interaction leads to a ‘Seussian’ world where we encounter Horton (Oliver Halford), Gertrude McFuzz (Freya Rhodes), and Mayzie La Bird (Emily-Hope Wilkins) amongst other fantastical creatures.
When Horton discovers the microscopic planet of Who and places it on a clover, all manner of mayhem follows including unrequited love, banishment to military school, preparations for war and an abandoned egg. If this all sounds very surreal, it is. Regardless, it makes for a whimsical flight of fancy where this able cast get to showcase their talents.
Halford is perfect as Horton, the elephant with ‘a kind and powerful heart’ who does his best to save the planet of Who once he knows it is in peril. He is such a natural on the stage and not one aspect of his performance feels forced or rushed. His accent never slips, and his singing voice is beautiful. You could listen to him on Spotify all day and never tire of it. Barnes-Cupit is definitely the coolest cat in town. Oozing charm and charisma, he even has the maturity to ad-lib hilariously to the audience. Word of warning, do not be late back to your seats after the interval. Rhodes also impresses in what is unbelievably her first significant role in front of a live audience. She has a fair number of difficult rhyming couplets to sing, but she has the enunciation and diction to put many a professional to shame. This Gertrude is sweet as sugar candy yet displays grit and determination.
Costume and choreography are also worthy of a special mention. There is a level of detail in both indicative of careful thought and commitment. For example, the Bird Girls (Charlotte Fisher, Hattie Campion, and Kate Russell), who function as a Greek Chorus in the show, all wear pale pink 1920’s style dresses. They also have accents of fuchsia pink not just on the feathers in their hair, but on the tops of their tails and even their eyeshadow. This thoroughness does not go unnoticed.
The choreography is also first-rate, incorporating elements of street, ballet, contemporary and Latin. I ask Jessica Royce, the show’s choreographer, why Seussical was chosen. She tells me it is because the show is ‘fun, family-friendly and there is lots for everyone to do.’ I would concur. All the cast are kept busy, and they all have a chance to shine. Furthermore, the musical numbers are surprisingly catchy. I think I will be singing ‘How Lucky You Are’ for a good while yet. You can see how hard these performers have been working and how much it means to them. Hemi Lewis (Circus Creature/Who/Hunch) has the most infectious smile on her face throughout; even the Grinch would find it hard to resist. You might not be able to see behind my Covid mask, but I am beaming along with her.
Red and white striped ‘hats off’ to Christopher Mundy for directing this thirty-seven strong cast with an age range spanning from eight years to twenty. I am a huge champion of local talent, especially youngsters, and to see so many clearly loving what they are doing is music to my ears. Which brings me to the band, often the unsung heroes in musical theatre. Tonight’s Musical Director is Jon Orton and he leads in such a way that adds to the performance without ever overshadowing the young cast.
Seussical’s message of inclusivity resonates, particularly in these challenging times, so why not escape to a wondrous world where ‘anything’s possible’? Like me, you may think you do not like green eggs and ham, but this production serves up plenty to savour.
Running time: 2 hours (including 20-minute interval)