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In 'Seussical,' Horton hears his Who on Main Street

Who'd a thunk the Cat in the Hat would be tapping his feet on Main Street? Or that Horton and his Whos would arrive just in time to deliver their story in musical rhyme?

It's because the 2013 Summer Youth Production of "Seussical the Musical" is playing weekends at Laurel Mill Playhouse.

"Seussical the Musical" is just what you would think — a dazzling show based on the popular Dr. Seuss storybooks. With music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and book by the two together, "Seussical" opened on Broadway in 2000, ended in 2001, and has since become a favorite of school and community theaters.

As in years past, the Playhouse presents its summer production as a family affair. Director Jocelyn Knazik, a Laurel native and University of Maryland theater major who directed "Guys and Dolls" at the Playhouse last summer, leads an amazing young cast of local artists. Her mom, Patti Knazik, has also returned as producer; and her dad, Stu Knazik, provides the music direction.

Choreographer Hannah Mollerick; technical director and set designer Matthew Williams; lighting designer Sean Forsythe; costume designer Kim Delk; tech operators Tyler Rutherford and Ruth LaCourse; and stage managers Dwight Townsend-Gray and Brittany Truske round out the crew and deliver their nonstop magic.

From the moment the audience enters the intimate Main Street theater, Williams' black-and-white set, painted whimsically and Seuss-like as Whoville, serves as a perfect foil for giant storybook set pieces that unfold to become parts of the scenery. And Delk's adorable costume design is as outrageous as one should expect from a show with "Seuss" in its title.

The show revisits classic characters and mixes stories, resulting in a tale that feels oh-so-familiar but never fails to intrigue. As the primary plot, our old friend Horton the elephant — played wonderfully by Dexter Warren, of Laurel — enacts two classic Seuss books written in the '50s ("Horton Hatches the Egg" and "Horton Hears a Who!") in one story line.

The show travels from the Jungle of Nool to the Circus McGurkus to the invisible world of the Whos. Familiar Seuss characters the Cat in the Hat, JoJo, Horton, Gertrude, Mayzie, Sour Kangaroo, Young Kangaroo, Mr. Mayor, Mrs. Mayor, General Schmitz, Yertle the Turtle, the Grinch, the Bird Girls and the Wickersham, in addition to an ensemble, take Playhouse audiences on an enchanting journey that ultimately reaffirms the power of friendship and family.

Through close to 30 well-choreographed musical numbers, the cast of teens and actors as young as 7 serves up stellar renditions of classic Broadway, doo wop, R&B, and rock 'n' roll. Many of the vocal performances are so good that it is easy to forget just how young these impressive performers are. Stand-outs include Dexter Warren in "Here on Who"; Jaden Burnett in "Jojo Alone in the Universe"; Noah Wright in "How Lucky You Are"; and Dexter Warren and Danielle McCants in "Notice Me Horton."

Many of the cast members hail from Laurel, including Wright who plays the irrepressible Cat; Sam Besse as a gentle Grinch; Jordan Budzinski, and Alexis and Allison Thompson, who make darling Bird Girls; Jessica Harzer as the sourest Sour Kangaroo; McCants as lovely and believable as Gertrude; Michael Miller and Cora Smith as wicked as Wickershams; and Andrew Rayo as a masterful Mr. Mayor.

Besse, Julia Clement, Danielle and Noelle Dawson, Sharon Gilbertz, Mia Hamilton, Mary and Rachel Kilgallon, Elizabeth and Julia Knisley, Elaina LaSanta and Aubrie Wilson simply shine as members of the ensemble.

Other performance credits include Burnett as thoughtful Jojo; Emily Freeman as the vivacious Mayzie; Cydney Wright as Young Kangaroo; Amy Vecheck as a winning Mrs. Mayor; Ellizabeth Steele as another feathery Bird Girl; and JoAnn Depestre, Michael Miller and Jordan Stedd, who join Smith as one of those Wickershams.

Leading characters Wright (Cat), Warren (Horton) and McCants (Gertrude) warrant special mention for delivering outstanding performances.

Kids of all ages will find much to be captivated by in the vivid showmanship of Laurel Mill Playhouse's delightful production of "Seussical the Musical." And as always, Dr. Seuss' unrelenting social and political comments are there for anyone who cares to listen.

"Seussical the Musical" continues through Aug. 17, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinees on Sunday, Aug. 11 and Saturday, Aug. 17 (no evening show) at Laurel Mill Playhouse, 508 Main St. General admission is $18. Students 18 and under and seniors 65 and over pay $15. Reservations recommended. Call 301-617-9906 and press 2.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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