By Allison McDowell-Enstrom
On opening night for Seussical, Jr. at The Village Theatre’s KIDSTAGE in Issaquah, the lobby was abuzz with chattering parents of players, lots of with flower bouquets, and the pulse of nervous energy for the first night of a new show.
We took our seats in the small, intimate theater and waited while parents introduced themselves to each other and figured out which of the actors belonged to whom. Then from the moment the curtain billowed open, Dr. Seuss’s trademark Truffula trees framed the set for a young cast that positively owned the audience. The opening number included the entire company and the energy and excitement of these young actors was nearly tangible.
The musical establishes Jojo (Whoville Mayor’s son) and the Cat in the Hat as narrators. Seussical, Jr. creators Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) use Horton Hears a Who as the overarching story of the play while incorporating scenes and lessons, from several other classic Dr. Seuss books like McEilligot’s Pool, The Lorax, Oh, the Thinks You Can Think, and Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? The positive social themes Theodor Seuss Geisel is famous for were present throughout: a person’s a person no matter how small, independent thinkers are wonderful, being different is great, and anything’s possible.
The ensemble cast consisted of one stand-out after another. Jojo (Rachel Donka) and the Cat (Sarah Dennis) were adorable. Gertrude and Mayzie (Shaye Hodgins, Regan Morris) were seasoned professionals who must live double-lives as teenagers! Sour Kangaroo (Emily Rudolph) was a funky rocker ‘roo with an awesome jazz-type vibrato going on. And Horton, good ‘ole Horton (Christian Obert), was the perfect sad-sack, being beaten down and then built right back up for his dedication and love for that little speck of dust. Maybe because of my own son, I found the Wickersham Brothers to be especially appealing. (Broadway bullies are infinitely more likable than bullies in real life.)
The live music consisted of one keyboard and a drum-set. The bright, robust sound made it feel more like a loaded pit.
The first half of the second act lost a little steam. The story was a bit darker and less energetic and got a little bogged down in some of Seuss’s less famous titles. Even so, the surrounding numbers undoubtedly compensated.
My two kids were entranced from the start and stayed plugged in for the entire 90-minute show. My six-year old daughter was most taken with Thing 1 and Thing 2, which is funny because those little guys had very minor appearances. My 10-year old son had a more sophisticated view: “I can’t believe kids that young can sing and dance that well in front of so many people!” I, too, was beyond impressed at the true talent and professionalism displayed by the kids involved in Village Theatre’s KIDSTAGE program.
KIDSTAGE has an in-depth educational program that caters to kids interested in acting from preschool age all the way up to students in their mid-20s and semi-professionals. Camps and classes are ongoing and for the more advanced young actor, stop in at the KIDSTAGE Institute Open House in either Everett (April 21) or Issaquah (April 30).
If you go . . .
Where: The Village Theater KIDSTAGE: First Stage Theater, Issaquah
When: April 13-29, Thursday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays 2 p.m.
Prices: $16 general, $14 youth and senior
Tickets and Info: villagetheater.org