Apple Hill Playhouse has a hit on its hands with the Orchard Performing Arts Company’s production of Seussical.
Not to let the cat out of the bag,
Or in this case out of the hat,
Before we get through the usual stuff,
And bypass all the frivolous fluff,
Mitchell Aiello’s Cat in the Hat
At the Apple Hill Playhouse,
Is where it’s at!
Theodor Seuss Geisel began writing children’s books under the name “Dr. Seuss” back in the 1950s, so there is a pretty good chance everyone in the world is familiar with at least a couple of his stories. Seussical the Musical blends together three of his most popular books, “Horton Hears a Who!”, “Horton Hatches the Egg” and “Miss Gertrude McFuzz”, and includes other well-known characters.
Mitchell Aiello’s portrayal of the Cat in the Hat, serves as the musical’s narrator and tells the story of Horton, an elephant, who discovers a speck of dust that contains the Whos. On that speck is Jojo, a Who child that was sent off to military school for thinking too many “thinks.” Not only must Horton protect the Whos from a world of naysayers and dangers, but he also took on the responsibility to guard an abandoned egg, left in his care by its mother, the irresponsible Mayzie La Bird. As you can imagine Horton gets a lot of grief from his friends for sitting on an egg. An elephant sitting on an egg is a “sitting duck” for hunters, who capture Horton and ship him and the egg off to the circus. Horton’s dedication to the protection of the egg and the Whos cause him to have to stand trial for being a crazy elephant. Through it all, Gertrude McFuzz, a blue bird with a serious tail problem, never loses faith in him. Will the egg hatch? Will the Whos be heard? Will Horton realize that Gertrude loves him? Don’t worry, Horton’s not crazy!
Have you been to a community theatre production? “If you never did you should. These things are fun, and fun is good.” Dr. Seuss
This production brings together a group of experienced actors playing the lead characters coupled with an ensemble of interesting new and experienced performers rounding out the large cast.
Playing the Cat in the Hat is Mitchell Aiello. He’s is a rising star with delicious physical comedy skills, wonderfully flexible facial expressions and a strong voice. He dominates the stage and your attention, easily drawing you into the silly yet serious world of Dr. Seuss. Aiello is a native of Detroit, let’s hope he stays around Pittsburgh for a while before some Broadway show snatches him up.
The cast shows off the depth of the Pittsburgh areas’ acting talent pool. Stand outs include local Lisa Bompiani-Smith with a great singing voice as the delightfully sour Kangaroo. Jake Grantz is the loveable Horton who grows on you as the show progresses. By requirement, he is a big guy, in a big grey costume, playing a big elephant, yet his portrayal of Horton, particularly nurturing the egg, is quite touching.
Since Jojo was sent off to military school, there, of course, must be the nasty over-powering drill sergeant character, here played to comedic perfection by Timothy Tolbert. Not a lot of stage time for Tolbert, but when he is on, he’s captivating.
Kate Kratzenberg has one of the best singing voices in the cast and gets to put it to good use as lazy Mayzie La Bird, the lovable floozy who convinces Horton to sit on her egg for a couple hours. Then she flies off to Palm Beach for a year, leaving poor Horton: “I said what I’d do and I did what I said”. At the opposite end of bird loyalty is the ever-faithful Gertrude McFuzz, who, while missing a bunch of tail feathers, has a great pair of feathered glasses and a huge crush on Horton. She has two numbers to show off her vocal chops and make Horton one happy elephant singing “All For You”.
Director Timothy Dougherty has pulled together a uniformly engaging cast of experienced veterans and newcomers and showcases their talents well. Aided by Choreographer Elisa Kosetelnik, they successfully wrangle the large cast, including a number of children, on the relatively small Apple Hill stage.
There are many up and coming children performers in Seussical that have great supporting roles. The young man playing Jojo, Zachary Gilkey held his own amongst the productions seasoned performers. As he matures into his voice we can expect great things from him.
If you haven’t been to Apple Hill before, the theatre is an intimate space in a converted barn. It is cozy enough that body mics are not required. The set design by Jen James captures the bright colors, ambiance, and style of Geisel’s book illustrations. Kudos to the design and construction crew who made great use of the charming space, although the creakiness of the wooden platforms resonated alarmingly throughout the performance. The original costume designs of Liza Seiner and Tina Lepidi-Stewart were spot on in conveying the childish simplicity and the primary colors embodied in the original Geisel illustrations.
During this performance, the house was nearly at capacity with a mix of all ages from young children to grandparents. The children in the audience were totally engrossed with the performance.
If you are interested in introducing a young child to the magic of theatre, you couldn’t do better than Seussical the Musical at the Apple Hill Playhouse. It is community theater at its best.
The Orchard Performing Arts Company, Inc. production of Seussical the Musical at the Apple Hill Playhouse with performances at 7:30p.m. on July 14, 15; 20, 21, 22 and 2:00 on July 16. Located off of U.S. Route 22 at 275 Manor Rd in Delmont, PA 15626
For tickets: (724) 468-5050 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Special thanks to Apple Hill for the complimentary ticket.
Photos courtesy of Tracey Johnson.