WATERLOO | Anyone with any familiarity of the world of Dr. Seuss would guess a production based on his work would be full of color.
Waterloo Community Playhouse's production of Seussical is full of color. It's not the set or even the costumes that gives the production most of its life — it's the casts' colorful performances.
Abby Zeets as the Cat in the Hat propels the show with a mischievous madness and delight paired with timely touches of wisdom. Her vocals are strong and expressive. Her clever asides are delivered with the right amount of cunning delight. Zeets' movements and expressions are far too complex, quick or small to be choreographed except by an actor with talent and instinct for movement in a performance space.
In contrast, Joshua Panhoff gives an excellent but subdued performance as the sensitive and earnest Horton who hears the Whos. Crystal Spencer, who has been part of ensemble casts in other WCP musicals, gets a much-deserved larger role as Gertrude, a bird with a small tail and a big crush. Horton's antagonist is a narcissistic R&B crooning Sour Kangaroo played by vocally gifted Rosemary Gast who gives the character a booming, soulful voice.
Marley Millar makes her WCP debut as a Jojo, a young imaginative Who that finds his voice. Millar, with a strong voice of her own, conveys the youthful wonder and occasional self-doubt needed to convey the show's message of celebrating imagination and enjoying life — the good and the bad parts that come with it. Kim Sitting as Mayzie La Bird gives a smooth, sultry performance as the restless night-life loving avian.
The show itself is an uplifting combination of well-known works of Theodore Geisel who penned his books as Dr. Seuss. It combines elements from "Horton Hears a Who!," "Horton Hatches the Egg" and "The One Feather Tail of Gertrude McFuzz," along with parts and characters from other stories.
The set, while creative, is relatively flat. Matt Kerns, who is making his debut as creative director of WCP, said it was inspired by 1970s television shows Laugh-In and the Muppet Show. Although a flat wall, it gives characters the ability to appear suddenly, almost puppet-like, through multiple cubby holes in the wall.
The wall features a Dr. Seuss-inspired red and white-swirled wall takes on various tones or colors with light changes depending on the mood or setting. It goes from to black and green when the Grinch makes one of his brief appearances to orange and yellow for the Whoville to green and brown when Jojo is recruited to fight in the "Butter Battle."
As part of the more dimensional displays, actors provide waves of water by fluttering blue fabric. The birds' nests are creatively decorated shopping carts.
The costumes, while colorful, fall short of other fantastical WCP or Black Hawk Childrens' Theater productions. Masks the bird characters wear in Horton's world help unify their appearance. Otherwise, those characters' costuming is somewhat disjointed. This may be in part because some of the actors play multiple roles (Lilly Gast doubles as a delightfully sweet Whoville Mayor's wife).
Horton inexplicably wears large leaves on his head rather than elephant ears in that it's the only folliage-based costuming. Tony John has a competent General Schmitz costume. However, his Yertle the Turtle costume — a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles backpack and red mask — appears lazy even if it was a tongue-in-cheek joke for younger audience members.
With the creative and cohesive costume designs of past musicals and Black Hawk Children's Theater shows, Seussical was an opportunity to surpass those but instead fell short. However, a few exceptions include the Wickersham Brothers, played by Erin McRae, Jaden Amjadi and Joel Ochoa, have identical costumes and hair color with three different hairstyles while Amjadi was able to transition to his zany-voiced Whoville Mayor character. The Things, (Emma Hickman and Alexis Nelson) also have good costumes to go along with their energetic and nimble performances.
Dr. Seuss has long entertained children by encouraging them to think and use their imaginations. WCP's production of Seussical captures that message. As the one of the songs suggest, there's no telling what things you'll think, but patrons will likely think WCP put on a fun, colorful show.