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UMass performance of ‘Seussical’ brings out the child in everyone

The crowded Bartlett Hall stage bursted with energy and color when the UMass Theatre Guild, a studentrun volunteer organization, performed “Seussical” Friday.

The backdrop was a classical Dr. Seussstyle mural of the familiar world most audience members were exposed to as kids. There were truffula trees, rolling hills and strangely shaped buildings, all painted in soothing pastels that contrasted with the bold costumes of the characters.

The characters were drawn from several Dr. Seuss classics, including Jojo, a young “Who” with an

overactive imagination, or someone who “thinks too many thinks,” in the words of Seuss himself.

(Courtesy of Monica Chu)

(Courtesy of Monica Chu)

Caroline Phinney, the actor portraying Jojo, began the first scene by picking up the Cat’s hat and getting pushed into an actionpacked adventure. Jojo’s chemistry with the Cat in the Hat was apparent during their many dialogues, making their moments together enjoyable on stage. The confusion faced by Phinney’s character was offset by the eccentricity of the Cat in the Hat.

Josh Bernard played The Cat in the Hat, naturally taking to the cheerful, yet slightly mysterious, character with his friendly demeanor and cheshire catesque grin. Bernard played the Cat in the Hat along with other roles throughout the musical, never fully losing his cat costume while always assuming the role of an authority figure. While he helps Jojo as the cat, he is distant in his other roles and sometimes oppressive. The effect, for the audience, is enchanting.

Will Healy played the humble character of Horton. As Horton, he looked only to help others and was too preoccupied with protecting Whoville to notice the character of Gertrude’s evergrowing, flamboyant feathers that she used to try and win his attention. Katy Geraghty is the comedic highlight of the show, never missing an opportunity to make the audience laugh with her impeccable stage presence. Her character, Gertrude, who wins Horton’s attention only after she lets herself be who she really is, teaches the importance of resisting conformity.

Brandon Hetherington performs his first drag role as the Sour Kangaroo. His singing was soulful, distinct and in place with his long, flowing, orange dress. Hetherington easily portrayed a female despite his height and  even carried a baby in “her” pouch. Mary Margaret Hogan and Katie Fontes played the roles of the Mayor and the Mayor’s wife respectfully. This gave the musical a twist with an unquestioned samesex couple parenting Jojo.

The entire cast frequently appeared on stage at once, mostly during the multiple musical numbers. The small musical orchestra situated just below the stage accompanied the cast. It was comprised of violins, pianos, percussion instruments, horns, woodwinds and more contributing sounds.

There was not a dull moment in the original Broadway play, and the UMass Theatre Guild made sure to translate that in their version of it. The musical taught lessons, feasible across all ages through the humorous character portrayals and silly dance numbers. Despite knowing the stories of the characters through countless readings and rereadings of Horton Hears a Who and other works of Dr. Seuss, audience members were moved to the edge of their seats at the climax, and smiled nostalgically when the famous line is delivered: “A person is a person no matter how small.”

Sarah Gamard can be reached at sgamard@umass.edu.

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