Last weekend the Bosch Centre for the Performing Arts witnessed a Walt Disney-like fantasy in the TAISM Middle School production of “Seussical Jr.” Even the name conjures up the surreal animal world of American children’s author, Dr. Seuss, with his famous Cat in the Hat, in a musical.
The first thing to strike the audience was the incredible set, designed and constructed by Kris Hovland (helped by a posse of student helpers). Like a cartoon on two levels and a bridge reminiscent of the ‘Wizard of Oz’, the whacky signs pointing ‘to here’ and ‘to there’ gave a hint of the bizarre things to come. It was a very colourful show, with some great singing in harmony to pre-recorded backing CD, thanks to Musical Director, Mr Andrew Elbin.
Dancing was slickly choreographed by Samantha Mongardi, and the superb costumes stitched together by Ms Jessica Gibney and Darija Hays, all loosely held together in ‘a quest’. And for those who have read any of the Dr Seuss books, it will come as no surprise that the dialogue was entirely spoken in rhyme – between lots of songs. Accolades for the whole concept must go to the Director, Ms Kendra Kuti, who conceived the project, faced the challenges and, well, got the Show on the Road.
The performance opened with a central character, Jojo, played with great confidence and clarity by Aastha Bharati, walking through the auditorium singing, “Oh the Thinks you can Think”, a recurring chorus throughout the show. She joined the colourful company and the Cat in the Hat himself – played with stamina and style by Nicolas Mansour – on stage in a grand opening number for the cast.
It was gratifying that the animal characters were fully human, so didn’t need to walk on all fours or wear appendages to ‘animalise’ them. Horton the Elephant, with delightful flapping ears on his hat, was a central role, demanding almost constant presence on stage and a strong singing voice. Maurycy Gniatkowski was well cast for his musical voice, only hampered by a bad cold which sadly blocked his nose and knocked his confidence.
The plot was a little hard to grasp and involved a huge clover flower which seemed to provide telepathic powers. Horton gained contact with the soul-searching Jojo and her dogmatic parents, Mr and Mrs Mayor, played and sung with slapstick humour by Basil al Balushi and Nayla Jasmine.
Things moved on a pace with the appearance of the raunchy Rania Mullen as a Sour Kangaroo, with the cutest Roo in her pouch. She led the “Biggest Blame Fool” with full chorus backing, allowing her strong, bluesy-pop voice to pick her out among the cast.
Enter the birds, and perhaps the strongest stage presence and voices in the show. Grace Griffin is following a family trait of thespian talent and sang, “The One Feather Tail of Miss Gertrude McFuzz” as a blue-dressed bird, admittedly lacking in plumage, with her beautiful, well-tuned voice in her high as well as middle ranges.
One, even more splendid, appeared in the form of Mayzie LaBird. A Diva in Red of questionable morals, was sung and played splendidly by Lina Benchekor, who sang seductively and spoke her rhyming couplets with clarity and humour. They both had a ‘Bird Girls’ backing chorus of four chirruping students. Another chorus of Monkeys added 5 boys to the cast and amusing commentary on the proceedings. Though, Who was Who?
Shea Rose performed Grinch with aplomb, Balazs Fentor made a fitting Yertle the Turtle-magistrate, and Vlad Vladikoff, the frightening Eagle who steals the magic clover, was perfectly cast in Elia Urquart Boya, among other roles.
Song styles were generally in true Disney-Musical genre until our sleazy Mayzie had a smoky, older-than-her-years number in “Amazing Mayzie”. The gal-about-town next appeared at the top of a palm tree, cleverly engineered with ladders by the set team, hatching an enormous egg which was clearly cramping her Party Style.
She tricked Horton the Elephant to take over in a Calypso and headed off to Palm Beach. A more unlikely pairing is unimaginable. Horton produced an Elephant-Bird as his hatchling, a cameo role for young Noah Brink, and Mayzie sought a life of hedonistic pleasure in the Jazzy-Blues, “Mayzie at the Beach”. Cat in the Hat was wheeled on with a honky-tonk piano to accompany her in brilliant cartoon caricature form. Gertrude came to accept her limited plumage - as what is inside is more important – and returned Horton’s Clover so he could reconnect with Jojo, and the magistrate acquitted Horton of hallucination and lying. Rudyard Kipling was put to shame with this production, and the 80-minute performance fairly whizzed by.
Ms Kendra added, “One of the elements which kept us going during rehearsals reminds us of the heart of the message: “A person’s a person, no matter how small!”. This show says that despite differences in size, shape, colour, race or creed, we are all people that deserve dignity and respect.”
This was no small achievement for a bunch of middle school children, whose hours of training and rehearsals paid off in this huge success. TAISM comes up trumps again – and this reviewer eagerly awaits their next venture with trepidation.