Why do we have such a love of Dr. Seuss? Director Megan Knowlton Balne inquired. Why is Dr. Seuss so universally loved by children and adults, generation after generation? Why is a Dr. Seuss book the perfect gift for a child entering adulthood or an adult embarking on parenthood?
Ms. Balne embarked on a voyage of her own in order to answer these questions. She did so by directing McMagical Productions’ presentation of Seussical at the Ritz Theatre Company. Your correspondent attended the February 14th performance.
With all the rhyming couplets and colorful characters, the true message of Dr. Seuss’s work can get lost. Not with Ms. Balne. In the Director’s Note, she observed:
When I think about Seuss, I think about stories that go beyond the children’s literature. Dr. Seuss’s books teach us about imagination and show us how to see the world in a different light. When we are blinded by technology and can’t go through the day without looking at our smart phones, we need to take a moment and look around and remember that imagination and looking beyond the noise will help us make better decisions and become better people.
Ms. Balne applied her own ingenuity and made good choices towards bettering the show. They started with Seussical’s beginning. During the opening number, the performers placed copies of Dr. Seuss’s books into a milk crate. Another actor entered the stage and perused them. The Cat (played by Haley Melvin) then made her entry. In the interest of avoiding spoilers, your reviewer won’t elaborate on this delightful sequence.
Through the power of her own imagination, Ms. Balne created a wonderful spectacle of the world of Seuss. The performers she selected to bring this magical realm to the stage applied their own inventiveness in bringing their characters to life.
For her sixth run of Seussical, performer Haley Melvin played the Cat in the Hat for the first time. Ms. Melvin approached the role like someone inspired.
Ms. Melvin captured the Cat’s high energy through her prancing about the stage. When JoJo (played by Gracie Brown) ordered her to leave, she would pout while slowly exiting. Then she would quickly turn and add a cheery, “Let me say one more thing.”
Ms. Melvin performed the unforgettable vocal numbers with skill and humor. She captured the ironic essence of “How Lucky You Are” through her upbeat delivery.
So be happy you’re here.
Think of life as a thrill.
It could get worse
As we all know it will.
In May of 2019, Sid Maycock turned in a comedic tour de force playing the Cat during the Village Playbox’s presentation of Seussical. For this production he changed hats and took on the role of Horton the Elephant. Mr. Maycock applied warmth, tenderness and humor to the role of the poignant pachyderm.
Mr. Maycock delivered his portions of “Solla Sollew” and “Alone in the Universe” with the sensitive vocals the songs required. For the latter he performed a powerful duet well accompanied by Gracie Brown as JoJo. Fans of Mr. Maycock’s comedic work will be delighted by his interaction with Suzanne Tuttle (as Mayzie La Bird).
While already known as an outstanding choreographer, Lindsey Krier showed her extraordinary skills as an actress and vocalist. Ms. Krier captured Gertrude McFuzz’s lovelorn frustration in “Notice Me, Horton.” She showed comedic prowess during her scene with the Pillberry Bush. She followed with a hysterical delivery of “Amayzing Gertrude.”
Ms. Melvin’s, Mr. Maycock’s and Ms. Krier’s stage presences gave the impression that they were playing roles they’d longed to perform for their entire lives. That’s not to take away from any of the other actors. These three just seemed passionate about the opportunity to portray their characters.
Your correspondent sat in front of the director during the performance. Ms. Balne laughed throughout the show. As familiar as she was with Seussical, the cast still entertained her.
All of this demonstrates just how committed everyone was to making this production successful. It also shows the pride they took in their work and the professionalism of the finished product.
For their “revitalized and reimagined” version of Scrooge: The Musical in December, the Ritz production staff removed the pageantry that appeared in earlier productions. The pomp returned to the Ritz stage for Seussical.
The show featured dance spectacles choreographed by Elizabeth Baldwin. Both the Adult Ensemble (Kayla Disibio, Rachel Insley, Amber Kusching, Alexa McClean-Maynes and Chris Valkyria) and the Children Ensemble (Caspian Aicher-Roberts, Sophia Bianco, Alexis Finkelstein, Annalise Griffin, Sophia Leone, Piper Loughlin, Gracie Sokoloff, Nora Ragonese and Max Ruggles) performed sophisticated routines. The Wickersham Brothers’ (Adam Bretz, Zach Capone and Zach Palais) added some comical monkeyshines to the dance sequences as well.
The Bird Girls performances reminded this reviewer of the Supremes. Tori Tatulli, Lisa Krier and Erika Dorsett combined soulful vocals with elaborate dance moves on “Horton Hears a Who,” “Biggest Blame Fool” and “Egg, Nest and Tree.”
Choreographer Liz Balwin contributed her own R & B stylings to the production. Ms. Baldwin entertained with her brand of soul on “Biggest Blame Fool” and “The People Versus Horton the Elephant.”
The other cast members included: Don Toal, Lisa Toal, Tracy Brycem Will Young and Sammy Balne. The following individuals rounded out the production team: Musical and Vocal Director Kendra Hecker, Stage Manager Jeanette Carden, Lighting Design Jennifer Donsky, Costumes Rachel Theibault Grodzielanek. and Spot Operator Bridget Bryce. Sam Tait, Anastasia Swan and Natasha Swan managed the Sound. Jay Capone, Al Krier, Scott Palais, Eric Dorsett, Greg Laughlin, Will Young, Zach Palais and Zach Capone worked on Set Construction.
McMagical Productions was created to honor dance instructor Barbara McKinsey; a young woman who passed away from lung cancer in 2013. The organization describes its mission as to serve: those suffering from chronic diseases by raising money, raising awareness and raising their spirits through the performing arts. This run of Seussical will benefit the Lung Cancer Research Foundation. More information is available at: www.mcmagicalproductions.org.
Fans of Seuss should take a trip
To the arts district of Haddon Township.
There they will find theatrical bliss
In the form of McMagical’s production of Seussical at the Ritz.
The rhyming couplets are infectious. So is the joy the team at McMagical Productions imparted to the audience.
Al Krier opened the Valentine’s Day performance by stating that the cast would “win your heart.” He asked the audience to “feel the love.” They sure did.
Seussical runs through February 15th at the Ritz Theatre company. McMagical Productions and the Ritz Theatre Company will team up again to present Hairspray, Jr. That show will take place April 3rd and 4th.