The stage is dark. In the shadows lurk brightly coloured clumps of trees crafted in a charming 2D fashion. A single spotlight shines its beam on an all-too-familiar red and white hat; and excitement and nostalgia weave together above the audience, which spans four generations… maybe more.
As the house lights dim, a single figure strolls on to the stage and begins to ponder that hat. She dreams up its owner who appears as though from thin air and suddenly the stage bursts to life as wave upon wave of jungle creatures and Whovians crash onto the stage in a smile-inducing opening number.
This is Kirwan High’s Seussical: The Musical.
As a former Kirwan student myself, Kirwan’s musical is always one I look forward to. I know first-hand the months and months of rehearsals that go into these shows and the lifelong passion for theatre that they’ll generate among even the most unsuspecting participants (read: those year 12 students just giving it a crack in order to squeeze every drop of experience out of their senior year). That same thrill was evident on the face of every single cast member involved in Seussical last night.
The show brings together many of Dr Seuss’ most enduring characters and stories, as it follows the two key narratives of Jojo the Who and Horton the Elephant. Those familiar with Seuss will recognise many beloved references including the Cat in The Hat, the Circus McGurkus (from If I Ran the Circus), Yertle the Turtle and, of course, Green Eggs and Ham. The action takes place in two co-existing worlds – The Jungle of Nool, where Horton lives and Whoville, a microscopic planet that has been thrown into peril thanks to deforestation (causing their planet to drift uncontrollably about) and impending war. Yes, it is a kids’ show! While bathing in the Jungle of Nool, Horton hears voices that no-one else can and soon discovers that it is the Whos calling for his help – he sets about trying to secure Whoville’s safety, while Jojo tries to get herself out of a jam caused by an over-active imagination. Of course, there’s plenty of colourful characters to be met along the way.
The key driver of mischief is the iconic Cat in the Hat, played by Taylor Buse. Taylor has a knack for appearing and disappearing, much like the Cat in the Hat is known to do; and she has succeeded in bringing to life this mischievous character with a real flair for physical comedy. Taylor’s skill is matched by Paige Nugent in the role of Jojo who is both impressionable and bull-headed; and I particularly enjoyed her performance in the number where she first finds herself in military school under the strict direction of General Ghengis Khan Schmitz, played perfectly by Jayden McInnes-Stewart.
While these fabulously high-energy, larger-than-life, so-OTT-it-could-only-be-Seuss characters shone in the very way they should; for me, the absolute stand-out was the beautifully unassuming Horton, played by Liam Carroll. In all the chaos of Seuss’ most zany characters exists humble, helpful, softly spoken Horton. As I took in Liam’s performance I was a reminded of a quote that goes something along the lines of: “The mark of a great actor isn’t in the way he delivers lines, but in the way he listens to others deliver theirs”. Liam nailed this and, while his acting and vocal performance were both spot-on, his defining moment was just sitting back listening attentively to the Who’s sing their story.
The entire cast proved terrific in all areas; and the vocal chops of Ameya Ransom, Yazi Schellhorn and Abbie Cook are deserving of special mention; as are the physicality of Things 1 and 2 and the menacing gang of monkeys. Well done to Directors Lindsay Nobile and Jamie Hunt; Vocal Directors Suellen Onslow and Erin Darrigan; and choregraphers Kylie Tillack and Fiona Cochrane on their exceptional guidance. It was also easy to forget the entire score was played live by an Orchestra hidden from sight; and I would have assumed it was a recording had I not run into Musical Director, Ashley Baxter’s wife in the foyer!
One element that did affect the show was the clarity of some of the narration and dialogue. With the script rhyming from start to finish, there was a tendency for some actors to focus on rhythm rather than emoting their lines; and I feel this did detract from story-telling in places. Likewise, some of the pitching made dialogue difficult to digest; although I suspect much of this is attributable to the actors’ attempts to add a Seuss-like dynamicism to their line delivery.
All in all though, this is another great production from a long-line of great productions by Kirwan High. It looked great (costume, make-up and set teams – take a bow!); it sounded great; and it was a whole lot of fun for young and old.
Kirwan State High School’s Seussical: The Musical continues at Riverway Arts Centre until 26 May 2018. For information and tickets, go to What’s On Townsville.