WESTON — When we were very young, my brother and I read many Dr. Seuss books, such as “Green Eggs and Ham,” and “The Cat in the Hat,” but our favorite was “Horton Hears A Who.” To this day, when emphasizing a point, one of us will repeat Horton the Elephant’s mantra to those with smaller ears who would not believe that an entire planet of Whos lived on a single speck of dust on a single ball of clover: “I meant what I said. I said what I meant.”
If last Thursday’s preview performance was any indication, Weston Playhouse Young Company’s entertaining, briskly paced production of a 70-minute version of the Broadway musical, “Seussical,” should keep children engaged and perhaps touch the adults tagging along, evoking memories of simple verse and “Thing One” and “Thing Two.”
“Seussical” is based upon “Horton Hears A Who” and the lesser-known “Horton Hatches The Egg.” In the latter, Horton is hoodwinked into perching atop an egg in a nest at the tippy-top of a very tall tree by Maizie, an irresponsible feathered friend with places to go and birds to see. With the exception of one caring bird, Gertrude, Horton’s devotion to Maizie’s egg and to the microscopic Whos meets with derision. Eventually, a spiteful kangaroo and her mischievous cohorts, i.e., the Wickershams, mean to drop the clover containing the Whos they cannot see or hear into a vat of boiling oil. Not to worry. With the help of the audience, the teensy Whos are heard and all learn what Horton already knew: a person’s a person, no matter how small.
In keeping with stories and songs that emphasized the use of one’s imagination (“Oh, the Thinks You Can Think”), as well as the necessity of performing outside, a low-tech minimalist set and suggestive costuming left it to the actors to bring the various characters to life. With a slightly disheveled look and gentle manner, Sage Jepson fit nicely as Horton the Elephant. Emma Diner was charming as his determined love interest, Gertrude. As Jojo, the tiniest Who of them all, Cole Thompson beamed goodness and energy.
Alexander Tan was a hoot as the narcissistic Maizie (feathered to the nines), and Daelyn Jorif belted some bluesy notes as the sour Kangaroo. Nadia Belaouchi portrayed the Cat in the Hat (and Judge), and Gracee Street and Timmy Thompson doubled as the Mayor of the Whos and the Mayor’s husband, as well as the wicked Wickershams. All exhibited wonderful singing voices and dancing dexterity. Timmy Thompson, in particular, displayed some serious acrobatic moves that drew "ahhs" from the small fry in attendance. Kudos to choreographer Felicity Stiverson, who kept the entire cast jumping and strutting here and there.
Performing outside in the open air presents its own set of issues. Some voices, such as the brassy singing voice of Emma Diner as Gertrude, projected better than voices in the lower registers. Since director Allison Benko elected to eschew microphones, it will be important as the run continues at Weston and elsewhere that the talented ensemble be blocked closer to the audience and that even touching numbers carry more volume. Just like the tiny Whos!
Performances of “Seussical” continue through Aug. 7 in Weston on the lawn at Walker Farm as well as at other area locations, including Dana Thompson Memorial Park in Manchester, Artistree Community Arts Center in South Pomfret, Swift House Inn in Middlebury, Willow Park Lower Pavillion in Bennington, Georgetti Park in Rutland and the Circus Lawn at Shelburne Museum in Shelburne.
For additional information and to purchase tickets, call the Weston Playhouse Theatre Company box office at 802-824-5288 or visit the company’s website at westonplayhouse.org.