Review: Seussical the Musical, Arts Theatre

“Oh, the thinks you can think!
Any thinker who thinks
Can come up with a few!”


Much of the charm of many festive shows comes from their innate familiarity – childhood pantomimes, the ever-present Dickens, the ageless music of The Nutcracker – but in an increasingly global cultural world, other shows are attempting to crack the family market at this potentially lucrative time of year for theatres. Seussical the Musical is one such show, returning to the Arts Theatre after a run last Christmas and though the world of Dr Seuss may not have quite the same purchase here as it does in the US, its appeal is undeniable.

Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens’ musical premiered on Broadway in 2000 but it is the ‘Theatre for Young Audiences’ version that Sell A Door Theatre Company have brought to the UK, a tale suitable for all ages woven together from a number of Dr Seuss’ stories. So the famous Cat in the Hat is there, introducing us to the weirdly wonderful way in which language is used in this world, and we soon get sucked into the adventures of Horton Hears A Who, as a kindly elephant tries to save a tiny world that exists on a speck of dust. 

A 12-strong ensemble are highly enthusiastic in Kirk Jameson’s production, surrounded by Richard Evans’ attractive technicolour set and inventive costumery, and their hard work largely pays off in the end. The initially convoluted story slowly develops into something lovely as everyone gets to learn a lesson about something, and Ste Clough’s Horton is a beautifully sensitive central presence as he sets about his various endeavours. Kirsty Marie Ayers is also excellent as Gertrude McFuzz, who has her own journey to take in order to help Horton as she so wishes to do.


But the choice to use backing tracks in lieu of live music inhibits the show, robbing the atmosphere of one of the key components of great musicals. Additionally, the sound is occasionally very muddy and so lyrical clarity is often not what it should be, some cast members prioritising vocal gymnastics over telling the story of their characters, and so risking losing the attention of the audience, whether old or young. But with Elliot Fitzpatrick’s twinkling Cat in the Hat guiding us through to a stomping finale of Green Eggs and Ham, Seussical just about redeems itself.


Running time 70 minutes (without interval)

Booking until 5th January

Originally written for The Public Reviews

Review: Lucky Stiff, Landor

“We’re down on our knees braving rabies and fleas”

Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s Ragtime was one of the highlights of the musical year in London and along with their revival of Howard Goodall’s The Hired Man, marked a year with remarkable highs for the Landor Theatre in Clapham. Their small-scale but big-impact productions have proved a welcome boost to the London fringe musical scene, marked by their success in the Offies awards last week, and the Landor are clearly looking to maintain that by reviving Ahrens and Flaherty’s first show Lucky Stiff. A frivolous musical farce, based on Michael Butterworth’s The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo, the plot revels in the nonsensical and ridiculous as we caper from a dowdy English shoeshop and an Atlantic City optometrist’s office to the glitzy casinos of Monte Carlo with gay abandon.

Harry Witherspoon’s existence selling footwear is thrown into chaos when an unexpected bequest from an unknown uncle falls into his lap, but with certain strings attached. In order to get his inheritance, Harry needs to take the embalmed body of his uncle on a trip to Monte Carlo and pass him off as alive, or else the money will go to the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn. Further complicating matters is the uncle’s lover Rita, six million dollars worth of diamonds that have gone missing, an over-friendly Italian, cross-dressing maids, a representative of the dogs home with her eyes on the cash and a suspicious-looking Arab, as everyone descends on the South Coast of France in a madcap rush with much confusion ensuing. Continue reading “Review: Lucky Stiff, Landor”

Review: Just So, Tabard

“Why are those things you admire most in others the hardest to find in yourself?”
 

Stiles+Drewe occupy a funny place for me: a musical writing pair, I’ve several of their soundtracks in my collection as well as their West End concert and I’ve been to a charity gig they hosted this year but I have never actually seen a show they have written. Fortunately, the Tabard Theatre took it upon themselves to rectify this by putting on a production of Just So.

Written in the mid 1980s by George Stiles (music) and Anthony Drewe (lyrics), this is actually the professional London premiere of this show after a successful 2006 revival in Chichester which featured Julie Atherton. Director Andrew Keates has aimed big with this production, the biggest ever at the Tabard, which celebrates both the 25th anniversary of the show and the Tabard itself.

Just So pulls together five of Rudyard Kipling’s famous stories into one epic journey through the jungle as the Elephant’s Child and the Kolokolo Bird, guided by the wise Eldest Magician, travel together to stop the evil crab Pau Amma from flooding everything and on the way meet all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures as they learn to face their fears, be truly courageous and the real value of friendship. With a live band and a cast of eleven, the story is brought vividly to life on the stage of the Tabard in what makes for a most entertaining family musical. Continue reading “Review: Just So, Tabard”